A group of high school students in Wisconsin say they’re not letting House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) off the hook when it comes to gun reform — and they’re willing to walk the 50 miles from their hometown to his Janesville office to deliver their message.
The Shorewood High School students first started their trek, called “50 Miles More,” on March 24, and expect to arrive in Janesville on March 28. On their official website, they explain that they organized the march as a way to continue the momentum from March For Our Lives, following the past weekend’s global anti-gun violence demonstrations.
“Our first march is a four day, 50 mile march from Madison to Janesville, the home of House Speaker Paul Ryan. It is directed at Paul Ryan for his lead role in blocking and burying any chance of gun reform again and again,” the students wrote. “We are ready to keep the pressure on our nation’s top leaders until gun reform is a priority for Republicans and Democrats. We are not afraid. We fear being shot in our own schools and neighborhoods much more than we would ever fear the NRA or the politicians they support.”
— March For Our Lives: 50 Miles More (@50milesmore) March 26, 2018
The 50 Miles More march comes on the heels of the larger March For Our Lives protests, held on Saturday in the U.S. capital and beyond. Those demonstrations were meant to highlight the deadly trend of school shootings and mass shootings over the past few years, including the February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed in that incident, sparking a nationwide conversation and a wave of youth-led activism.
The Shorewood High School students say they were also inspired by the civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., who marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
“We’re picking up where so many marches left off,” 18-year-old student organizer Katie Eder told the Washington Post.
At a March For Our Lives event on Saturday, she added, “In 2018 we’ve reached a period in time where we, the young people of this country, are being told that ending gun violence in the U.S. is impossible, our dreams are too big and we don’t know what were talking about. But I stand here today to say to all of you that now is the time to do the impossible.”
Although Speaker Ryan has made some steps toward increasing school safety in the wake of the Parkland shooting — including embedding the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) and STOP School Violence Act in the omnibus bill last week — and met with the Parkland survivors and other victims’ families, Ryan has been relatively quiet on the subject of gun violence. Notably, he also received more than $170,000 in contributions from gun lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) in 2016.
Ryan has also shunned talk of broad gun restrictions, telling reporters last month that Congress and law enforcement’s focus should be on keeping firearms out of the hands of violent individuals and those with mental health issues, as well as enforcing laws already on the books.
“We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens, we should be focusing on making sure that citizens who shouldn’t get guns in the first place, don’t get those guns,” he said, referencing the Parkland gunman. “[We] know that there are problems in the system with the background checks with people slipping through the cracks. We already passed a bill to fix that. [But] we also want to make sure that we protect people’s due process rights and legal constitutional rights while making sure that people who should not have guns don’t get them.”
Ryan has expressed similar sentiments previously: in November, following deadly church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 dead, Ryan spoke to reporters, saying that the gunman, who had a known history of domestic violence, should never have had a firearm. “How about enforcing the laws we’ve got on the books?” Ryan said at the time, echoing many of the NRA’s talking points.
Today, young people around Wisconsin march in solidarity with young people around the country. Tomorrow, young people around Wisconsin will continue to march…all the way to Janesville. #50More #MarchForOurLives
Those words and Ryan’s unwillingness to address gun violence directly have spurred on the Shorewood High School students, who say they can no longer sit back and wait for lawmakers to come to conclusions on their own.
“It has been 19 years since Columbine, and we are still waiting for real change to be made. We are tired of waiting. Adults have said that nothing can be done, but students are finding a way,” they wrote. “…We are taking the fight to Paul Ryan and Members of Congress who would rather have money from the NRA than back legislation to save lives.”
As to the mammoth effort they’ve put into the 50-mile trek, the students say the exhaustion and sore bodies are worth it, given what they’re fighting for.
“If you think about why you’re here, your feet don’t hurt so bad,” student Hiwot Schutz said.