Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

Placeholder Image

Lane Murdock, center, and other organizers preparing for the National School Walkout on April 20. [Courtesy Lane Murdock]

The Teen Behind the National School Walkout Wants to Break the ‘Status Quo’

Lane Murdock, a 16-year-old sophomore from Ridgefield, Connecticut, hasn’t slept much in the past two months.

What’s kept her up at night, apart from studying for exams, is one all-consuming extracurricular: organizing a national protest against gun violence that has drawn the support of more than 250,000 people.

In February, Murdock was in math class when her principal’s voice came over the school’s loudspeaker, announcing that there had been a school shooting in Florida.

As Murdock’s principal called for a moment of silence, she thought about what she could do. She was not old enough to vote. But, she said, she realized she and her friends preserved the status quo just by showing up to school every day.

“When you can break that status quo, you get some attention,” she reasoned, “and we could use that attention to talk about this topic.”

When Murdock got home from school that day, she started an online petition calling for students to walk out of school to protest gun violence. For a date, she chose April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting.

What she couldn’t know at the time was that her spontaneous plan would become a milestone in a youth-driven movement with sustained momentum.

At first, Murdock didn’t expect her idea to catch on — she had never organized anything before. Her hope was that her school would participate, and perhaps a few others would, too.

When she woke up the next morning, her petition had collected thousands of signatures. Realizing she needed help, she got three of her classmates to help organize what was already becoming a national walkout.

Starting Friday, April 20 at 10 a.m. local time, Murdock’s many late nights will bear fruit when students walk out of the more than 2,600  schools where events are planned. They will differ from the March 14 national student walkout, in which students generally observed 17 minutes of silence — to honor the 17 students killed in the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting — before returning to class. Many students plan to leave school for the day.  

It’s up to local organizers to decide how their events play out. Students are encouraged to observe 13 seconds of silence for the 13 lives lost in Columbine, and then to let “have their voices heard.” Some will host open mics, others will march.

  • In Parkland, students will have one minute of silence to honor all victims of gun violence, followed by 13 seconds to honor Columbine victims. After that, they are encouraged to register to vote.
  • In Baltimore, at least 10 high schools are expected to stage walkouts, despite warnings from school officials that they could face disciplinary action.
  • In New York City, students at Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical high schools will join thousands of their peers at Washington Square Park, where U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, will speak.
  • In Portland, Oregon, students from at least three high schools are planning a march to City Hall to protest police brutality and to call for stricter gun laws.
  • In Seattle, students from at least 30 high schools are planning to walk out and then attend a rally called “We Won’t Be Next,” focusing on everyday gun violence — including suicides, domestic violence, and street homicides — that don’t always make headlines.
  • In Garretson, South Dakota, one local walkout was canceled after hundreds of adults complained on Facebook. In response, teenage organizers decided to make the effort statewide, bypassing their school’s officials.

The walkouts are part of a number of actions commemorating the Columbine anniversary.

Another is the National Day of Against Gun Violence, organized by groups that represent teachers, urging people to take “inclusive, respectful, and non-violent” actions to support legislation and programs to reduce gun violence in schools.

The event website suggests a variety of ways to get involved, from writing to legislators to wearing orange clothing (typically worn by hunters to signify “don’t shoot,” the hue has become the color of the gun reform movement).

In Littleton, Colorado, the home of Columbine, a group of young activists put together a voter registration event called “Vote for Our Lives.”

The event, which took place Thursday, April 19, was held steps from the Columbine Memorial. (The group says at least 30 other events will happen at later dates, leading up to November’s elections.) Thursday’s rally featured survivors of mass shootings at Columbine, Parkland, Aurora, and Arapahoe.

Organizers moved the rally up a day from Friday out of respect for the wishes of administrators at Columbine High School, whose principal, Scott Christy, urged people to mark the anniversary by performing acts of public service. For years, local groups have done this informally. Last year, the school made the focus official, calling it A Day of Service.

A spokeswoman for Jefferson County Public Schools, Diana Wilson, noted that the Columbine community has no single political stance on gun issues, and said she finds it “fascinating” that people use Columbine “as a platform.” She said the community just tries to “remember a tragedy and be respectful and give back.”

Murdock is aware that she entered delicate ground with the timing of her protest. But she saw a walkout as the best way to send her larger message.

“This movement isn’t just about me,” she said. “It’s about the thousands of students from all sorts of backgrounds across the country whose voices aren’t being elevated by the press, and the gun violence that isn’t in the headlines.”

She added: “This is not the finale for us. It’s the launchpad.”