From Bethel and Fairbanks to Anchorage and Juneau, people across Alaska gathered on Saturday in solidarity with March For Our Lives in Washington D.C.
Anchorage marchers carried signs showing varying messages such as Thoughts and Prayers are not Bulletproof and Books Not Bullets.
About 1,000 people attended.
The march kicked off with speeches from local student organizers. One of them was Keegan Blain, a junior at AJ Dimond High School.
“We all believe that no more innocent children need to lose their life in what is supposed to be a safe place,” Blain said.
The organizers want to raise the minimum age to own a firearm from 18 to 21, among other demands. They say high schoolers shouldn’t be allowed to own guns.
“If you buy a gun at 21, you’re not gonna be having a gun while you’re also enrolled in a school,” high school junior and speaker James Schultz said. “You’d have it be in a college which has a lot more safeguards in place”
Currently, Alaska residents can carry concealed firearms without a permit at 21, however most universities in the state don’t allow guns on campus without administrative approval. March organizers also want to require background checks for gun show purchases and reclassify certain weapons and ammunition magazines as military grade.
Alaska has the highest percentage of gun ownership among adults in the country. Schultz insists the March for Our Lives movement does not want to take away people’s firearms.
“I don’t want to take away your second amendment rights,” Schultz said. “I’ve got family members that have guns. What we want is gun reforms. So we want it to be harder to get a gun, but easy enough that if you’re healthy and you’re doing all the right things, you can get one.”
In Bethel, about 30 people joined the March, carrying signs and walking the slushy shoulder of Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. Most of those who took to the Bethel street were students, teachers, school administrators, parents and grandparents.
“It [my sign] says ‘At 17 I have seen 192 school shootings. I refuse to see another,'” 17-year-old organizer Kelly O’Brien said. “I made this sign when we did the Student Walkout, and that number was 188. And since the Parkland School shooting, there have been four more school shootings in the United States. So I’m marching for stricter gun laws and regulations and just keeping students safe in school.”
Bethel Regional High School was the site of a school shooting more than 20 years ago where principal Ron Edwards and student Josh Palacios lost their lives. While the students marching wouldn’t have been old enough to remember the tragedy, Yuut Elitnaurviat learning center executive director Mike Hoffman says the effects of the shooting can still be felt in Bethel.
“I see it every day at our school, and we’re already practicing our shooting lockdowns and everything,” Hoffman said. “I know I have four people who work in that school [Yuut Elitnaurviat and Kuskokwim Learning Academy] that were here during the school shooting 20 years ago, and just to watch their face when we started that whole process. I feel so sad for them.”
In Juneau, Anchorage Democratic Representative Geran Tarr spoke at the rally at the state’s capitol. Tarr introduced House Bill 75 last year. It establishes red flag laws that allow judges to remove guns from the homes of people at higher risk of committing acts of violence.
“The idea is that you’re trying to intervene in a crisis situation and prevent someone from harming themselves or others and using the court to help you intervene by removing the guns,” Tarr said.
The bill has had several hearings in the House Judiciary Committee and Tarr said she’s hopeful it will be moved out next week.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect information on marches in Juenau and Bethel. It now contains contributions from KTOO’s Adelyn Baxter in Juneau and KYUK’s Anna Rose MacArthur in Bethel.