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US students to stage walkout against gun violence

Latest update : 13/03/2018

© AFP/File / by Sébastien BLANC | A banner supporting stricter gun laws hangs at the high school in Parkland where 17 people were shot dead


One month to the day after a 19-year-old shooter unleashed a hail of gunfire at a Florida high school, tens of thousands of American students will stage a school walkout in a politically charged tribute to the victims.

The "National School Walkout" slated to begin Wednesday at 10:00 am will last 17 minutes -- one for each victim shot dead during the Valentine's Day massacre in Parkland.

The event to honor those slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- organized by the same group behind the Women's March, which in January 2017 saw millions of demonstrators take to the streets against Donald Trump's White House inauguration -- say the walkout is also an act of protest against the gun violence plaguing the United States.

Those launching calls for action, many under the hashtag #Enough, are urging measures including expanding the background check system and curbing sales of assault-style rifles.

"Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school," wrote organizers on their website.

"We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence."

The #Enough movement has also voiced resolute opposition to arming school staff members as a means of defense against future shootings.

Some staunch defenders of gun access floated that proposition in the wake of the Florida bloodbath -- and just last week the southeastern state's governor signed into law a measure that would pave the way for such a system.

Meanwhile, both the White House and Congress have shied away from putting forth major reforms on gun sales.

- Disciplinary threat -

Donald Trump had momentarily signaled support for increasing restrictions, but now stands accused of bowing to the US gun lobby: a new policy statement emphasizing the US president's motion to arm school personnel would make "sure our schools are safe and secure, just like our airports, stadiums and government buildings."

It did not, however, mention new federal purchasing age limits or expanding firearms vetting.

The US has seen a spate of fatal school shootings in recent years, posing a threat to students of all ages.

Some parents and teachers have said protesting around the sensitive issue could be particularly traumatic for America's youngest.

To prepare for Wednesday's planned walkout, organizers therefore fostered debate among students of various ages to discuss forms of expression like rallies and posters, as well as slogans.

Some schools have also raised the issue of allowing students to leave their high school campuses even if parents grant permission.

One Texas district warned that school authorities would slap any student who walked out with a three-day suspension.

"We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved," said the Needville schools superintendent in a statement widely published on US media. "A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally."

"A disruption of the school will not be tolerated."

Sarah Hinger of the American Civil Liberties Union -- an organization working to protect constitutional rights including the right to free speech -- called that stance a "disservice."

"A disciplinary response is a disservice to young people and a missed educational opportunity," she said.

by Sébastien BLANC

© 2018 AFP