CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa students gathered at the Campanile on Wednesday to protest gun violence following last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.
“We as a country need to feel angry about this,” sophomore Emily Paul shouted through a bullhorn, referencing the 17 people who died in the shooting.
She organized the noon event through Facebook and by putting fliers up around campus as part of a national effort to walk out of classes.
“We are here to walk out of the classroom for those who never got to,” said the 19-year-old, inviting anyone in the crowd to come forward and speak. Nearly a dozen people stepped forward over about a half hour.
Between angry speeches and chants of “Not one more,” organizers called on attendees to pull out their phones and add the numbers of Iowa’s congressional delegation to their contacts.
“We have to be calling,” said Paul, urging attendees to contact elected representatives with their concerns about gun violence. She suggested Iowa’s two Republican U.S. senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, are “feeding the problem.”
Paul said Ernst received $3 million in support from the National Rifle Association for her 2014 political campaign. She also criticized UNI alum Grassley of nearby New Hartford, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last year he introduced a bill that eliminated the Social Security Administration’s proposed regulation to automatically put the names of those with severe mental illness who receive benefits in a national background check system, which would prevent them from buying a gun.
“This means our own government is putting weapons in the hands of people who want to kill,” said Paul.
Grassley’s office responded that the regulation needed to be repealed because it took action without a formal hearing, violating due process rights, and didn’t require a finding the person was mentally ill or a danger to themselves or others before they were reported to the background check system.
Another speaker urged attendees to contact U.S. 1st District Rep. Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, with concerns about gun violence, noting he’s up for re-election in 2018. Blum’s downtown Cedar Falls office will be the site of a 10 a.m. Friday gun violence protest organized by Cedar Falls High School students.
A number of speakers suggested all three politicians need to be voted out of office.
Freshman Angela Speltz referenced several past mass shootings and said inaction at addressing the problem is spreading fear.
“My little brother who is in school right now is afraid to go to school because he thinks someone is going to shoot him,” she said.
“I was raised Republican. I was raised with the belief that we should all have the right to bear arms,” Speltz added, noting she doesn’t accept that anymore. “I have had enough.”
Tyler Fulks, a junior and an education major like a number of those who spoke, decried calls by some politicians to arm teachers as a way to stop mass shootings in schools.
“I’m tired of being scared, and I’m tired of being scared for my students,” he said.
Sophomore Trevor Fletcher, a member of UNI’s student senate, told the crowd he is part of network involving 10 universities so far working to organize gun reform groups on campus. He also was signing up people to attend a march near the Capitol in Des Moines on March 24.
“I myself support the Second Amendment,” he said, referencing the constitutional right to bear arms. But he added guns must be harder to buy and certain weapons shouldn’t be sold.
UNI student Brenna Wolfe noted there have been “7,000 incidents of gun violence in 2018 and 34 mass shootings.
“Let that sink in,” she said. “It’s February 21st and we’ve had 34 mass shootings.”
According to gunviolencearchive.org, the 7,470 incidents this year involve all kinds of gun deaths and injuries. A mass shooting is defined as four or more shot or killed in a single event not including the shooter.
Wolfe cited a number of potential factors in the shootings and said “all of these need to be addressed. Let’s start with gun control so that violent people don’t have access to guns.”