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CEDAR FALLS — Students took the lead in the March for Our Lives rally Saturday that protested gun violence and demanded action from lawmakers.

The students were at the head of a throng that carried signs and marched through downtown with chants of “Not one more.” Cedar Valley high school and college students made up the rally’s entire slate of speakers.

More than 200 people gathered at Gateway Park for the 4 p.m. protest, marching across the Cedar River bridge and down Main Street. The crowd rallied when it reached Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Blum’s office at Main and Fifth streets.

“We need stricter gun laws and we need them now,” said Dylan Mack, a sophomore from Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo.

“How long are we going to wait?” asked Edina Kuduzovic, a sophomore at West High School in Waterloo. “We can’t let this happen one more time in our country. The headlines may be slowing down, but we’re not going to let our representatives sweep this under the rug as they have done in the past.”

Daejaun Oneal, a junior at East High School in Waterloo, said he has been researching current gun laws. “It’s easier to buy a gun that is meant for harming or killing than it is to get a driver’s license,” he contended.

Mack noted that polling shows a majority of Americans favor “meaningful reforms” of gun laws.

Citing the Pew Research Center, he said 89 percent of both Democrats and Republicans favor barring gun purchases for those with mental illness. A similarly high percentage — 85 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans — favor barring gun sales to those on no-fly and terror watch lists. Other polls show support for universal background checks rather than just requiring them when a licensed retailer is making a sale.

Originally planned for a week earlier, when other events protesting gun violence took place in Washington, D.C., and across the country, the march was postponed due to a snowstorm. The rallies across the nation were organized after 17 Parkland, Fla., students were killed at their high school on Valentine’s Day during a rampage by a gun-toting former classmate.

A feeling of helplessness after the Parkland shooting changed when Mack decided to get involved with the rally.

“We’re here today because we’re not (helpless),” he said. “Anyone who tells you students are too young to make a difference fell asleep in history class.”

Mack encouraged those who will be old enough to vote on election day, Nov. 6, to register. Americans for Democratic Action Iowa was at the rally to help with the voter registration effort.

Trevor Fletcher, a University of Northern Iowa sophomore, talked about the toll of gun violence in the last decade and similarly advocated for young people to embrace their voting rights. He suggested that would foment change in the nation’s gun laws.

In the 2016 presidential election, he said, “50 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds did not exercise their right to vote. ... We need to fix this.”

Ryan Westhoff, a Cedar Falls High School sophomore, highlighted his memories of drills through the years to prepare for an active shooter. “We’re a generation that grew up in fear of a mass shooting looming over our heads,” he said.

“We’re worried about our future in a way no teenagers should have to be,” added Emily Juhl, a West sophomore. “The idea of hiding in a classroom or running for my life is terrifying.

“I’m 16 years old. I should not have to worry about being attacked at school. But I truly believe that we the kids are heading to a safer future.”

Attendees Lucas Kahler and Abby Zeets, both 16, said it was important for them to be at the rally.

“We need to change and we are here to voice our opinion in the streets because we can’t do it in the voting (booth),” said Kahler, a Columbus student.

“I just want our voices to be heard, it’s very important,” said Zeets, a West student. “We don’t deserve to be scared in school ever.”

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Waterloo Schools / HCC Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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