HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Students and gun-control advocates in Montana and Wyoming joined protesters who rallied across the nation Saturday, galvanized by the students-turned-advocates who survived last month’s Florida school shooting.
At least nine March for Our Lives rallies and marches were planned across the two states, most of them organized and led by high-school students after the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 people dead.
At the rally in Helena, Montana, two teen sisters who helped organize the protest said the Parkland shooting survivors gave them hope for the first time after watching and experiencing years of gun violence in schools.
“Finally, somebody was doing something about it, except it wasn’t who you’d expect — it was us,” Mariah Thomas, 17. “It was students my own age who decided they wanted to put an end to gun violence.”
The large crowd waving signs and cheering was a mix of young and old. One Capital High School senior, 17-year-old Grace Bender, said she’s been around guns her entire life, and that it’s absolutely necessary for responsible gun owners to advocate for sensible legislation.
“I just want to feel safe in schools,” she said. “I don’t want to have to keep doing shooter drills.”
Outside the Montana Capitol building, a counter-protest was held by a smaller number of gun-rights advocates who swore that no outsiders would dictate gun control or infringe on their freedom.
“Today is about showing this country who Montana is, what we represent,” said organizer Brent Webber. “We will be heard and you will not be forgotten.”
One high schooler in attendance at the pro-gun rally, Braxton Shewalter of Columbia Falls, said he held a pro-gun rally at his school during the nationwide student walk-outs earlier this month. He said he believes the voices of responsible gun owners have been drowned out since the Florida shooting.
“All we believe is that our voices deserve to be heard, too,” Shewalter said.
Rallies were also held in Montana in Missoula, Billings, Bozeman and Great Falls.
In Wyoming, protesters gathered in Laramie, Jackson, Pinedale and Sheridan.
The Sheridan Press posted a video of a few dozen protesters marching down a downtown street, chanting and waving their signs and banners at passing traffic.
Those gatherings were held just days after the Cody area’s school board voted to advance a proposal that would allow employees to carry firearms in schools.
A final vote is expected in April, according to the Cody Enterprise.