By Eric Heinz
Parkland, Florida residents Jami Haggarty, her 13-year-old son, Blake, and Gabriella Fajardo came to San Clemente on Saturday, March 24 to let people know one thing: they’ve had enough.
They’re exhausted from seeing children killed in schools by semi- and fully automatic weapons. They knew some of the 17 people who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, which was one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings at a school.
Blake’s middle school is located adjacent to Stoneman Douglas.
“I was about…two football fields from the incident. I was in my speech and debate class when our teacher said we were on lock-down and told us to stay in place and get under our desks,” Blake said. “Then my friend, who is a ninth-grader at Douglas, texted me saying there was a school shooter and to take cover. Everything after that seems like a blur.”
Jami, a former educator at Stoneman Douglas, and her family had planned to visit California on vacation prior to the shooting and decided to attend Saturday’s satellite march in downtown San Clemente.
“Later on that day…I’ll never forget when I found out that I lost my dear friend,” Blake said. “I knew four of the victims. That was the hardest thing I had to face in my life. Now, I use it as motivation to make a positive difference.”
Hundreds of people came to the march at the San Clemente Library at the west end of Avenida Del Mar. There didn’t appear to be a counter protest on Saturday established during the march, but some fringe dissent was noticeable from passersby.
Organizers of San Clemente’s march included groups of students as well as local advocates of changing gun control laws. The objectives of the nationwide movement include placing stricter laws on buying firearms including increasing the wait time to purchase, banning high-capacity magazines that fire 10 rounds rapidly, universal background checks, ending the ability to buy weapons (especially assault rifles) at gun shows, which march advocates call a “loophole,” and to vote for candidates who pledge to push for such legislative changes.
Speakers also said it would be unwise to expect educators to be trained and armed with guns as it’s not their profession to do so. A resource officer stepped in and killed a lone gunman at a school in Maryland earlier this month, and increasing the number trained officers at schools is one argument people who don’t want to see gun laws changed, or just want to see more security at schools, have made.
Amber Saldana, who helped organize the San Clemente march with her sister, Rebecca Goodman, said people have to be willing to do something.
“We cannot allow one more student to be shot at school,” Saldana said. “We cannot not allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of an assault rifle to save the lives of their students. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying, and we need to make it a top priority to save their lives.”
People at the march were critical of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) stance on gun control and the organization’s unwillingness to bend its position on high-powered firearms. The California branch of the NRA on Twitter recently posted and retweeted stories indicating a need for better mental health review before selling a gun to someone, but it also appreciated examples of times when “good guys” with such firearms were able to act.
Thankfully this “good guy with an AR-15” was there to help! https://t.co/P8r9vAayrG
— California NRA (@CalNRA) March 21, 2018
A voter registration booth set up by the march organizers was available on the San Clemente Library lawn during the march.
San Clemente High School students Sutton Loughran and Jackson Hinkle spoke during the rally prior to the March. Hinkle led the high school’s walkout on March 14 on campus.
Loughran talked about the trivial things schoolchildren should worry about, like going to dances, what to wear that day and sports—not worrying about getting shot. She said she used to live in Centennial, Colorado in 2013 when Arapahoe High School experienced a shooting and that her middle school matriculated into Arapahoe.
“School shootings are becoming too easy,” Loughran said. “To some of you, that may sound unreasonable, but I can assure you that my sister didn’t go to school on Dec. 13, 2013 expecting that her school would be next, either. Arapahoe was not a mass shooting. Two people were killed, one being the shooter, but that was enough to change the entire community’s perspective on the world forever.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a statement that those who do not comply with regulations related to background checks would face consequences.
President Donald Trump on Friday sent out a tweet blaming his predecessor’s actions on bump stocks, which are intended to help people fire assault rifles easier but were used as an enhancement in the Las Vegas shooting that killed 50 in October.
Obama Administration legalized bump stocks. BAD IDEA. As I promised, today the Department of Justice will issue the rule banning BUMP STOCKS with a mandated comment period. We will BAN all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
Across the nation, the March for Our Lives headquarters reported more than 800 individual marches took place. In Washington, D.C. Thousands marched on the U.S. Capital building to listen to some of the students who have become figureheads in the national gun debate.
Scouring the internet’s most thorough reports on mass shootings from Propublica and the FBI’s crime statistics, it can be difficult to render a trend. The definitions of mass shootings, as Propublica states, are classified differently, can be confusing, but ultimately offer no comfort to those who have been affected.
“Kids shouldn’t have to worry about being in danger while going to school,” Blake said.
Following a rally at San Clemente Library, hundreds of people marched around Avenida Del Mar and back down to the library.
Editor’s disclaimer: The author of this story is from Denver, Colorado, and his mother attended Arapahoe High School in what was then Littleton, Colorado, class of 1976.