School shooting survivors lead gun violence protest in York

Written by Brett Sholtis/WITF News | Mar 26, 2018 4:56 AM

Kelsey Lauder, left, and Maggie Holroyd, right, two of the organizers for the March for Our Lives rally, embrace Chera Gardinier Stough, a former Red Lion Area Junior High teacher, after she spoke at the rally in downtown York Saturday (Jason Plotkin/York Daily Record)

The protest was inspired by the students who survived the Parkland, Florida school shooting, but it became a reunion for those who witnessed a York County school shooting 15 years ago.

Members of the 2007 and 2008 Red Lion High School graduating class led a March for Our Lives protest that drew hundreds from around the region. At the rally held in front of York's courthouse, they shared stories about how they were affected by an April 24, 2003 morning when a 14-year-old classmate walked into the junior high school cafeteria, murdered the school principal with a handgun and shot himself. 

The protest came as hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C. and around the country to push for stricter gun laws.

Red Lion survivor Lauren Beard said current gun laws have left children at risk, and those laws need to change.

"I'm here to tell you that surviving a school shooting is of little consolation in a society where they continue to have them," Beard said. "What does the freedom provided by the Constitution really mean, when our children are not safe?"

Beard and other activists called for a ban on bump stocks like those used in the Las Vegas mass shooting and the reversal of a rule that has kept Centers for Disease Control from researching gun violence as a public health problem. They also support universal background checks and closing the so-called gun show loophole, which allows private sellers to avoid a background check. Some also hope to ban high-capacity weapons like AR-15s. 

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Nate Riedy of Hellam holds a sign that reads 'Romans 14:19,' a Biblical reference which Riedy says means "doing everything you can to seek after peace." He wants to see "commonsense ways to reduce gun violence." (Brett Sholtis/WITF News)

Though the national movement, led by teenagers too young to vote, wasn't initially partisan, it's become a key cause for Democrats. In York, local Democrats such as West York Mayor Shawn Mauck and State Representative Carol Hill-Evans spoke at the rally. The significance of this remains to be seen in historically Republican-leaning counties like York, which have also been recently redistricted.  

Like much of Pennsylvania, York County has high rates of gun ownership and strong hunting traditions. Even among the school shooting survivors pushing for change, at least one, Amandah Stem, told the crowd she bought a handgun for self-defense after buying a home. 

Stem, like some in the crowd, is a gun owner who also supports stricter laws.

Andy Rohrbaugh of Dillsburg said he marched as a "responsible gun owner" who wants it to be more difficult for some people to buy guns. The 33-year-old ecologist said he and his wife both own firearms for hunting, but don't support the National Rifle Association.

Springfield Township's Richard Rishel said he has a lifetime Pennsylvania hunting permit, but wants to ban weapons like AR-15s and devices like bump stocks.

The 70-year-old Rishel said he's been inspired by the students who survived the Parkland, Florida shooting to speak up.

"I'll tell you the turning point was these kids down there," he said. "I admire the heck out of them."


Hundreds turned out to protest gun violence in York. (Jason Plotkin/York Daily Record)

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