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A look behind the scenes of the Nashville student walkouts for gun safety
Students, once again, walked out of school and into the streets to call for gun safety legislation -- this time, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ezri Tyler was 13-years-old when she organized a walkout at her middle school in Phoenix, Arizona. It was right after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and she felt the need to take action.
Five years later, Tyler was part of the team that coordinated massive walkouts today in Nashville, Tennessee, where students left their classrooms and flooded the streets exactly one week after the deadly shooting at The Covenant School that left three nine-year-olds and three adults dead.
“We knew that some form of action had to be taken,” Tyler, a 19-year-old freshman at Vanderbilt University and a national organizer at March For Our Lives, told The Up and Up.
Tyler’s been involved with March For Our Lives since the organization started with its initial round of walkouts in 2018. She’s emblematic of the generation of advocates who cut their teeth in gun safety activism post-Parkland and are now coming of age in a country still plagued by a gun violence epidemic — the “lockdown” generation, as we’ve been dubbed.
‘It’s been a very quick turnaround’
Immediately following the shooting in Nashville last week, Tyler and her counterpart Brynn Jones, a Tennessee local and Vanderbilt junior also working with March For Our Lives, started getting requests for a community based action.
“So many community members reached out to us and asked us what was coming next,” Tyler said. “We decided [to take action] on Tuesday afternoon. It’s been a very quick turnaround.”
Just days after the shooting last week, young people and their parents rallied at the state Capitol, calling on lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws.
Today, those calls once again echoed through the streets and into the halls of the Capitol building as students walked out of their classrooms across the city at 10:13 am (the time of the start of the shooting) and to the Capitol in a concerted effort.
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Following the walkout, city artists, state and local lawmakers, and activists from across the gun safety community joined demonstrators to demand action.
“This community has been hit time and time again from the state legislature on harmful legislation,” Tyler said. “They’re passing the drag ban, banning gender affirming care for trans minors, but they are staying silent on [gun safety legislation],” she said, referencing recent efforts on the part of the Tennessee GOP.
The students message today is clear, Tyler explained.
“We’re calling out the state legislature for taking such harmful actions and engaging in these pointless culture wars when there’s a gun violence epidemic that they’re doing nothing to address. We’re asking for common sense gun safety legislation,” she said.
In a press release, March For Our Lives said the coalition is demanding “an assault weapons ban and extreme risk protection orders."
Asked how she feels about coordinating another round of walkouts today, five years after she demonstrated in Phoenix, Tyler said: “I think it’s a testament to the fact that gun violence follows us wherever we go.”
Though she remains hopeful, she told The Up and Up.
“I absolutely do think that there is still success. If nothing else, it’s very hard to see that success because gun violence is such a pervasive issue, and it feels so difficult to tackle. But the fact that we have such a robust community of young people in legitimate leadership roles is a win. We did see this year the most comprehensive [gun safety] bill federally. That is a win, even though it isn’t perfect,” Tyler said.
Beyond the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which is the first major piece of bipartisan gun safety legislation in decades, Tyler said it’s a “win” for young people that the framing around gun violence has changed, and the issue is now seen as “intersectional.”
She emphasized that Monday’s action in Nashville was the result of a coalition of students of all ages and “mobilized parents,” too.
“The fact that this is a coalition of all Nashville universities and also high school, elementary, and middle school schools across the city is a testament that this community is ready to take action like so many others across the country and that they’re willing to stand for this,” she said.