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story.lead_photo.caption High school students and other protesters join Saturday’s march at the state Capitol in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Thousands of Arkansans joined the national movement fighting for tougher gun controls Saturday, marching to the state Capitol in Little Rock and holding rallies at other sites across the state.

Between 3,000 and 3,500 people, many of them students, participated in Little Rock's "March for Our Lives," according to a police officer at the scene.

The march, organized by anti-gun-violence and student activist groups, was one segment of a national political demonstration that dominated airwaves and social media Saturday.

High school students, in particular, have been a driving force in a national fight to restrict public access to military-style weapons in the wake of 17 people being killed in a shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month.

In Little Rock on Saturday, Madeleine Amox, a teenage student speaker from the Bryant School District, said she's often told she's too young to talk about politics.

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Photos by Polly Irungu

"It's not true, because I'm one of the people it affects [the] most. My classmates, my siblings, my family, their classmates, your family, your friends. We are affected the most," Amox said.

She kept speaking when a counterprotester in the crowd attempted to disrupt her.

Amox said her sister was born the same day as the Florida massacre. Amox was in third grade when 20 children and six adults were fatally shot at a school in Newtown, Conn. It was after that that Amox participated in her first active-shooter training drill, she said.

Protester Meghan Walton said her 3-year-old daughter has already experienced one of those lockdown drills -- at her preschool.

"It freaks me out and disgusts me that my baby has to practice how not to die in her own school," she said.

Walton, a substitute teacher in Russellville, was one of many Arkansas educators who marched Saturday. One teacher held up a sign that read, "The only Glock I want to be in my music class is a Glockenspiel."

He asked to remain anonymous because he teaches in a central Arkansas town where most people view gun rights differently than he does.

State Sens. Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield and state Rep. Charles Blake, all Little Rock Democrats, chatted with people in the Little Rock crowd. Parents pulled wagons and held the hands of toddlers who waddled uphill. Taped to a stroller, a sign read, "I nap but I stay woke."

Speaker Eve Jorgensen leads the Arkansas chapter for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization that pushes for what it calls "common-sense gun reforms."

She criticized a flash point in Arkansas politics: Act 562 of 2017. The law, spearheaded by Republican lawmakers, allows people with "enhanced" carry licenses to take concealed handguns onto public university campuses and into other public spaces.

Jorgensen said the law passed despite its unpopularity. If Arkansas politicians are unresponsive to demands made by anti-gun-violence protesters, "we will throw them out," she said.

Arkansas' U.S. Sen. John Boozman commented on the "March for Our Lives" events and the issues at hand, saying schools should be an environment where students can focus on learning and educators on teaching rather than worrying about their safety.

"Clearly, there are some things we can and should do to help secure schools from threats. Gov. [Asa] Hutchinson, along with state and local leaders, are exploring and implementing ways to best provide that security, and I support their efforts," Boozman said via email.

Another speaker at the Little Rock march, Wyley Greer of Greenbrier, talked about his experience during a nationwide student walkout March 14, when students across Arkansas and the nation left their classrooms to advocate for stricter access to firearms.

Restrictions commonly sought by activists include tougher background checks, raising the age limits to purchase guns and ensuring that people with criminal histories cannot buy firearms.

Greer said he was one of three students who walked out of Greenbrier High School. They were given the choice of two days of in-school suspension or two swats with a paddle as punishment for their action, Greer said.

He said he chose the paddle, which he said was not painful but an "insane" legal option for his punishment. He plans to walk out again on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting in Colorado.

The teenager said he and others will not be "silent spectators to our own future."

"Not voting isn't rebellion. It's surrender," Greer said, inciting cheers.

In Bentonville, where police said about 450 people attended Saturday's rally on the downtown square, counterprotesters showed up to oppose the types of gun restrictions sought by marchers.

Members of the Hiwaymen, which describes itself as a patriot group, and its Arkansas chapter, Freedom Crew, said they were there to stand up for the U.S. Constitution and their history and heritage.

They said marches like the ones happening in Arkansas are endangering their Second Amendment rights.

Any regulation on assault rifles is a dangerous slope, member James Del Brock said.

"They are using this to strip rights from we the people," Brock said. "I believe the American people have the right to defend ourselves. We have the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment] doesn't say what those arms are for. If we cannot own those, we will never be able to defend ourselves against any invader. We the people are the last defense in this country."

Stephannie Baker, a current Bentonville High School English teacher, spoke at the square about how much the Florida school shooting affected her.

She said that when she dreamt of becoming a teacher, she imagined reading great literature with students and discussing the deeper meaning of a work, "not answering questions about how to block the door so an intruder couldn't enter or how long it would take for someone to shoot the handle off," she said.

"These are real questions my students ask me," Baker said. "This isn't what I signed up for. I can't let fear take over. I have a job to do. I have to teach."

In closing the Little Rock rally, student speaker Chris Kingsby broadened the scope of Saturday's protest at the state Capitol. Not only is it about gun violence in schools, Kingsby said, it's also about how gun violence afflicts parts of Little Rock and affects young black men, in particular.

After the speeches wrapped up and the crowd thinned, a quieter exchange took place near Woodlane Street not far from the Capitol.

Counterprotester Greg Giuffria wore a National Rifle Association baseball cap and had the staff of an American flag propped against his leg.

He was approached by Dr. Vikki Stefans, a pediatric rehabilitative specialist affiliated with Arkansas Children's Hospital, who participated in the march.

For about 10 minutes, the pair politely sparred over their political differences.

Giuffria hypothesized that with a shotgun he could do the same amount of "damage" as occurred in a recent mass shooting that involved a semi-automatic weapon.

"You'd have to be real good, and I'd have to be slow [in fleeing]," Stefans said. Plus, with military-style weapons, "the wounds are worse," she said.

"There's no law that's going to ban evil," Giuffria said.

"You wouldn't repeal all laws that people break, would you?" Stefans asked.

They kept talking. Giuffria said he'd look over the literature that Stefans handed him. During their conversation, he cited a gun-violence statistic to support his argument. Stefans disagreed with it, but she left room to be proven wrong.

"I don't think so," she said. "But I'll look it up."

Information for this article was contributed by Ashton Eley of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Some of an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 protesters march on Capitol Avenue in Little Rock on Saturday.

Metro on 03/25/2018

Print Headline: Arkansans join marches

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  • RBear
    March 25, 2018 at 7:03 a.m.

    It is great to see these peaceful demonstrations by Arkansans at the "March For Our Lives" satellite sites. It shows how strong this movement is. Of course, it's going up against a gun lobby that has wielded an iron fist over Republican members of Congress and our president to the point they are too afraid to take any action.
    The bottom line is that this is NOT a slippery slope with an eventual aim of taking away all guns. The focus is assault weapons as defined by the AWB, high capacity magazines, bump stocks, a universal background check, and closing loopholes that have allowed individuals with mental issues to purchase weapons. Those are common sense measures that do not violate the Second Amendment according to the decision from Heller v. DC.
    What these marches also provided was a rallying point for young people to get active in the political process. It is their right as Americans to get involved and work for campaigns who support their views. Some will vote, others who can't vote will work with those campaigns. Trust me, they will be a force to be reckoned with this summer. Those teenagers can make phone calls, block walk, and work hard while the opposition is still sleeping. Social media? That's their lifeline.
    The best the gun nuts have offered is to turn our schools into war zones, primarily because they don't want to give on ANY of the items mentioned. That's what gun control advocates will point out as we go into the mid-term elections along with several other messages about a Republican Congress that has almost seemed like a lame duck Congress.

  • skeptic1
    March 25, 2018 at 8:23 a.m.

    It would be nice to see this much concern for the weekly senseless homicides in Little Rock.

  • RBear
    March 25, 2018 at 8:33 a.m.

    skeptic you don't even live or work in Little Rock so why do you care other than an attempt at a diversion?

  • WillBeararms
    March 25, 2018 at 8:43 a.m.

    I am a proud member of the NRA. I am not a terrorist or a murderer. I am one voice out of over five million members. Nikolas Cruz had between 20 to 40 police visits on his record including two for domestic violence that would have disqualified him from buying a firearm but he was never charged nor was anything done about repeated incidents where his abnormal behavior was reported to numerous authorities.

    The terrible Broward County response during this tragedy notwithstanding, now we learn that recently another Broward County Deputy charged with watching MSD HS was caught sleeping on the job and two students in separate instances were caught with knives. The picture is now clear on Majorie Stoneman Douglas and Broward County. Much could have been done to prevent this but let’s blame Rubio, the NRA and an AR 15 with 10 round magazines not high capacity; 10 round.

    No law will ever prevent criminals from getting their hands on assault style rifles or high capacity magazines. In fact outlawing AR’s and high caps will work about as well as banning heroin has. Little Rock is a very dangerous place. If you want to disarm yourself, that’s your prerogative. You can chose to be a servile subject and victim. I choose life. I choose to be armed with the same weapons as the bad guys and that includes a semi auto handgun with high capacity magazines. Have you read the crime reports for Little Rock lately? Gun laws do not work with gang members. They only prevent the law abiding person who has to drive through gang infested areas for work from being able to defend themselves.

    With regards to deer rifles and shotguns, the Pediatrician mentioned in the article does not know what she’s taking about. You won’t “ outrun “ a bullet or shotgun pellet at close range. In fact a Benelli M2 12 gauge 3” Magnum with even duck shot would be far more dangerous than an AR or AK. The reason being is instead of having one bullet for every trigger pull, you would have 60 to 80 steel balls going out in a fan pattern.

    With regards to deer rifles, all deer rifles were based upon military rifles back when we fought wars to win them. The AR or similar rifles, as bad as they are, were designed to wound the enemy with the thought being a wounded enemy soldier will burden his comrades and distract his force from the mission at hand. A deer rifle would have been far more lethal at MSD HS as one Deer round would have penetrated one student and hit others. All firearms are dangerous and should be treated very carefully. The good doctor may be a great physician but she has no idea about guns.

    Many Republicans and the NRA have been pushing for enhanced background reporting for decades. Perhaps now, something will be done about it.

  • dph815
    March 25, 2018 at 9:03 a.m.

    What a pro-gun control article this was-trying to report on these rallies in every minute detail. It might as well been an ad paid for by George Soros and could have been. The public needs to see through this hysterical movement by the liberals to run roughshod over American's fundamental rights.

  • mowjoehardeman
    March 25, 2018 at 9:06 a.m.

    Have these children been told the story of the thousands of babies aborted every year ,untold thousands since the oldest of them was lucky enough to have been born . Funny thing not a shot was fired , but lives were lost ! By the MILLIONS ! Churchill said "Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart . Show me an old Liberal and I will show you someone with on brains !

  • RBear
    March 25, 2018 at 9:17 a.m.

    ROTFL @ the right wingers who are all over the map on issues. More proof of issue illiteracy.

  • LR1955
    March 25, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    We’re you at the march RBear ?

  • AuntPetunia
    March 25, 2018 at 10:40 a.m.

    I don’t live in Chicago, but I am appalled at the slaughter of their citizens, where there is strict gun control. Who marches for them?

  • RobertBolt
    March 25, 2018 at 10:59 a.m.

    Gun fetishists are wholesale dealers in lies, distraction, distortion, and fear.