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Sixteen-year-old Wilton High School junior Isabella Segall organized and led a Teens Against Gun Violence rally at Ridgefield’s Ballard Park on Wednesday, Feb. 21, in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
After learning about the Parkland shooting, Isabella said, “I looked at my dad and said, ‘We have to do something. I can’t sit here anymore and watch all these children die or get hurt in these shootings.’”
That’s when she decided to organize the rally and start a Teens Against Gun Violence group in conjunction with CT Against Gun Violence (CAGV), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “identify, develop and promote passage of legislation designed to enhance gun safety.”
To a crowd of about 50 people gathered at Ballard Park’s gazebo, Isabella said faith is “something necessary in a time like this,” but “it cannot and will not solve all of our problems.”
“Your tweet saying how heartbroken you are will not bring Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old dancer from Parkland, Fla., back from the dead, whose life was cut short before she had the chance to graduate, to go to college or go to prom,” she said.
“The angry Facebook post shared thousands of times did not save Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach who threw himself in front of students to protect them from the bullets flying.”
“These are not statistics; these are people. People who took their last breaths hiding in closets and underneath desks,” said Isabella.
“This is not a world I want to live in — a world where faith is deemed a better solution than taking action, where risking your life is a daily activity; a world where buying an AR-15, a machine made for killing, is as easy as ordering the parts and assembling it at home.”
Isabella said she’s “fed up” with being “purposely oblivious to the terrors surrounding [her],” and feels that it’s her duty to “make a difference” and “spark change.”
The way to honor the “many victims of these violent shootings,” she said, is by doing something — “not by sitting at a computer, liking Facebook posts.”
“Let us never forget Joaquin, Martin, Alyssa, Cara, Luke and the many other victims of these shootings. Let us honor them by working to make a change by using our voices for positivity and action,” said Isabella.
“We have sat idle for too long. If we don’t do something now, we’ll be in the same place, liking the same posts, feeling the same way — this time, a different school with even more victims before we know it. In the words of Emma Gonzalez, ‘We call BS.’ We are the change.”
A number of people at the rally shared their thoughts, feelings and concerns about gun violence, including CAGV Executive Director Jeremy Stein, State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) and Democratic U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4th).
“We can no longer promise our children that tomorrow is going to be alright. We live in a country where we can no longer keep our children safe,” said Stein.
“The adults couldn’t put a stop to it — Congress has refused to act, and it’s not our congressional leaders form Connecticut; it’s the other congressional leaders who have failed to act.”
Although Connecticut has “the luxury of having great leaders,” Stein said, youth around the country have said, “No more,” and are demanding Congress to act.
“We need more people like you to be a part of this movement,” said Stein.
“We need you to say, ‘No more.’ We need you to say, ‘We want a change in this country to end gun violence.’ We want you to be the change you want to see in the world.”
According to CT Against Gun Violence, Connecticut has the second strongest gun laws and the fifth lowest gun death rate in the nation.
When there is “strong and strict gun control” and regulations, said Duff, “gun violence goes down.”
When Connecticut went that direction after Sandy Hook, he said, the state of Florida “actually went in the opposite direction” and has since had two mass shootings.
Duff said it’s time to “turn over the mantle of leadership to the next generation.”
“We have to use all of our voices collectively,” he said, “and all of you have to do the same thing. Reach out to your peers across the country, use social media, speak up and make sure that these kinds of tragedies never happen again.”
Duff said the teenagers in Parkland “can’t do it alone.”
“Our democracy is such — that it is more than just telling leaders like myself what to do. We need the armies of people behind us to march up the hill to make the change that we want to have,” said Duff.
“If all of you, after you leave here today, can talk to [more than one] person, bring them into this movement — talk to them about why this is so important and how this will help save lives — that will mean everything.”
Duff told attendees to continue standing up, speaking out and fighting.
“All of you, and our young people across this nation, have set a fire and awoken all those folks in [the] state capitals, and maybe our national capital as well, [to see that] a change is coming [and] if they don’t vote for change, they will be changed,” said Duff.
Himes thanked everyone at the rally for “getting involved” and “deciding to do something.”
“We need to change the way leaders in this country think about [gun violence],” he said.
Himes said he supports second amendment rights, but believes in background checks, that there “shouldn’t be 20 rounds magazines,” that people shouldn’t have access to firearms if they’re on a terrorist watch list, that people under restraining orders should have to temporarily give up their firearms.
“That’s a reasonable position,” he said, “and opponents of gun safety win when we don’t have conversations [about those things].”
Himes asked those at the rally to “not let this end today.”
“Don’t let it end here in Connecticut. Think about this as a national project that you can take on. We need to engage people in conversation and change hearts,” he said.
“When you change people’s hearts, their representatives will follow — or as Bob said, they will get another job.”
At the rally, Wilton High School junior Lily Montyka performed a song she wrote called “We Are the Change” to honor the Parkland shooting victims and raise gun violence awareness.
Lily told The Bulletin she’s felt passionately about gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
“I think that a lot of us thought things were going to change — that people were going to wake up and see that gun violence is a problem,” she said.
“It’s not so much that people shouldn’t have guns; it’s that … they’re way too accessible. The solution to this is not to give everyone guns — it’s to have stricter laws and less guns.”
The purpose of a gun is to “kill something,” said Lily, and she doesn’t think they should be “taken lightly.”
“Even though [gun ownership] is in the Constitution, it’s not good for the safety of other people,” she said.
“I’m personally really frustrated that we haven’t really done much. Connecticut’s gotten better, but as a nation, these shootings keep happening … and this doesn’t really happen in other countries. This is definitely a thing here and we definitely need to fix it and take action.”
Wilton High School senior Emily Kesselman said she’s proud of the work Connecticut legislators have done to enforce stricter gun laws.
“Connecticut is definitely really good about it,” she said, “but in other states, it’s bad.”
Wilton High School junior Grace Bracken said people shouldn’t only become concerned about gun violence when something happens in their own state.
“We’re doing this [rally] for people so far away because we know what it’s like … it’s happened to us before, but it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.
“All states should react, regardless if they’ve had experience with this issue or not.”
At the rally, Isabella collected names and contact information of teens interested in continuing the fight against gun violence.
“We will be emailing with more information and what we can do to take action,” she said.
“Now that we’ve talked, discussed and know how we all feel, it’s time to make a change.”
Isabella said there will be future Teens Against Gun Violence meetings, as well as “more times and more opportunities to really make a change.”