Nebraska students demand more gun reform five years after national school walkouts

Gun Rights

LINCOLN — Students at the Nebraska State Capitol on Thursday demanded action on gun safety and called on the Legislature to halt efforts on a “permitless” concealed carry bill.

Jayden Speed, the founder of the Nebraska chapter of Students Demand Action, addresses the need for gun reforms on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Various organizations, including Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, Huskers Against Gun Violence and Students Demand Action, connected Thursday’s news conference to National Walkout Day on March 14, 2018. On that day five years ago, nearly 3,000 students from coast to coast, including at schools from Omaha to North Platte in Nebraska, walked out of their classrooms.

Students demanded action because of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people. 

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“Today, five years after students walked out of their schools, we walked into this Capitol building to demand that our legislators turn away from the extreme policies of NRA executives and prioritize common sense gun laws,” said 18-year-old Jayden Speed. “We must prioritize saving lives, not more guns. We cannot look away from this crisis.”

‘National epidemic’

Speed, who founded the Nebraska chapter of Students Demand Action, said he got involved in preventing gun violence at 13 years old in 2018 during those walkouts.

“Many of us were shaken by the very idea that our schools were a target in the national epidemic of gun violence,” Speed said. 

Simone Hill, the founder of Huskers Against Gun Violence, addresses the need for gun reforms on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Simone Hill said she founded Huskers Against Gun Violence because she was “tired of feeling powerless again.” Hill walked out in 2018 and said Thursday that youth voices need to be uplifted “now more than ever before.”

Speed, Hill and Melody Vaccaro, the executive director of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, noted that gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children. Before 2020, deaths in motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death.

Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting last year, the first major legislation in nearly 30 years to combat gun violence.

However, Vaccaro said more must be done, including in Nebraska.

Vaccaro said senators are prioritizing legislation such as Legislative Bill 77, proposed by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, as the number of bills able to be passed this session remains small.

“It is ghoulish. It is monstrous,” Vaccaro said. “And the children of Nebraska, the children of the United States, we all deserve better.”

Freshman senator vows to fight

LB 77 is Brewer’s long-fought effort to pass permitless concealed carry, which became central to Thursday’s news conference. Brewer’s bill passed the first of three required rounds of debate on March 3.

Brewer has stated his bill is intended to “clean up the laws” so people can more easily protect themselves and their families or business.

State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln speaks in favor of more gun reforms on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. In her hand is a cutout of a preschooler in Raybould’s district, Octavia, who Raybould said the reforms would support. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, who led the eight-hour filibuster against LB 77, said constituents need to demand that their senators vote no on Brewer’s bill because it would increase accessibility to guns.

Raybould instead voiced support for LB 482, the Suicide Risk Protection Order Act she proposed. The act would allow a court to intervene when a person has access to a firearm, has made threats of violence and is a danger to themselves or others.

Similar laws exist in at least 19 states and are sometimes referred to as “red flag” laws. 

The Judiciary Committee considered the legislation Feb. 10, but there has been no movement.

“You are the greatest advocates in the world to help educate my fellow state senators on how important this issue [is], how important it is to the future of our state of Nebraska,” Raybould told students Thursday.

Raybould added that it is unacceptable for senators keeping their “head in the sand and ignoring the facts” about how students feel about their safety.

“We have to do more than what we’re doing now,” Raybould said.

Unsafe at school

La-Nayia Robinson, a junior at Lincoln High School, said she attended various schools that have had to put up protections for gun violence.

“Children shouldn’t be so scared of something that shouldn’t be an issue for them,” La-Nayia said.

Leah Nelson, an Omaha fifth-grader, talks about feeling unsafe in her school because of guns on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Leah Nelson, a fifth-grader from Omaha, said she is scared every day to go to school, worried there may be a threat similar to the drills that her school facilitates.

Fifth graders such as her, Leah said, should not have to be concerned with how to get out of the building in the case of a shooting or be thinking of shootings generally.

“I feel really unsafe at school sometimes,” Leah said. “I feel like it’s unreasonable, and it’s just really scary.”

Laura Roberts, an elementary teacher in Lincoln, said students do ask about school shootings when they occur. 

Roberts said that whenever there is a safety drill, she spends the rest of the day calming down her elementary students, not able to get any work done “because everybody is so freaked out.”

“The kids are not OK, and we should not be OK with this situation,” she said.

‘Itty bitty faces’

Maghie Miller-Jenkins said she has come to the Legislature multiple times this session to try to get senators to see the “humanity” in what they’re doing.

“There shouldn’t be a market for safety vests for children who are going to elementary school,” Miller-Jenkins said. “I shouldn’t worry about having to tell my 5-year-old that she needs to be prepared to hide under a desk for any reason other than tornado drills.”

Maghie Miller-Jenkins of Lincoln addresses gun reforms while holding her daughter, Atylss, on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Miller-Jenkins said that as she grew up in the 1980s, the only drills she practiced were for tornadoes and fires.

While speaking, Miller-Jenkins’ daughter, Atlyss, held onto her mother’s leg before her mother picked her up:

“[Legislators] need to look at these itty bitty faces because these little itty bitty faces are the faces on memorials. These itty bitty faces are the faces that parents have to be left remembering because they can only identify their children by their shoes,” Miller-Jenkins said.

“Your thoughts and prayers mean nothing,” she said, “because we’re still burying babies.”

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