Students walk out to protest gun violence amid wind and rain

Not even thunder, lightning, heavy rain, 55 mph wind gusts and a Tornado Watch could deter students from walking out to protest gun violence on Wednesday, April 5. “We are tired of gun violence and want gun reform,” said junior Simon Thompson, who helped organize the event. “We’re calling upon legislators to make change.”

The group of students participating in the walk out makes their way from the high school toward Milham Avenue. (Kayla Miller)

About 250 students departed PNHS at 10am, joining students from Portage Central and around the country in a student-led walkout to demand action for gun sense in America.  The protest comes just after the March 27 Covenant School shooting, where three adults and three children were killed by a 28-year old attacker in Nashville, TN.

Students walked down Oregon Avenue chanting and holding signs, spent time on Milham Avenue where they could be seen by morning traffic, and heard from Thompson and two other student speakers – junior Alanna Harris and senior James Asher – before returning to school around 10:30 am. “The change shouldn’t start after the trigger is pulled. It needs to happen before,” Harris stated.

At center with the umbrella, senior James Asher was one of three student speakers at the event. “I cherish the Second Amendment and I don’t think this really is an argument,” Asher said. “I think what people get confused is that the Second Amendment and common sense gun reforms can coexist together.” (Annabelle Bartz)

The crowd was soaking wet but committed. “I’m out here to support everyone else here and I would like to make gun reform so we can stop gun violence and school shootings,” sophomore Elijah Parker said amid the storm. “The weather is pretty bad, but it’s worth it.” 

Junior Levi Miller walked to address a specific issue related to gun reform: “I’m here to protest for gun reform because I really feel like America has too much access to guns,” he said. That access has contributed to the United States’ high gun ownership statistics: Last year, Americans had 120 guns per every 100 people, much higher than any other country in the world. A Pew Research study indicates that 4 in 10 Americans live in a household with a firearm. 

“What’s going on with school shootings isn’t right,” said freshman Theo Barker. “No one should worry about if they’re going to be going home alive or not.” So far this year, there have been 39 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 17 deaths and 30 injuries across the country. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, there have been 377 school shootings, exposing over 350,000 students to gun violence while at school. 

Joined by her peers chanting and recording the event, Freshman Aly Radford participates in the walk out with her homemade sign. “Mainly I did it because I hate knowing that I’m going to a school that I love and feel safe in, but that it could be the last day,” she said. “My elementary school never did lockdowns until 4th grade, and I still remember how scared my 9 year old self was then, and I’ve been scared everyday since. . .It’s sad to think that my friends and I could have something like [a school shooting] happen.” (Annabelle Bartz)
Weather deterred many would-be participants from joining the cause. “I didn’t wanna go outside because of the rain; if the weather was better, I would have went,” said sophomore Dillon Hurd. “I wasn’t happy about the rain,” said senior Elle Ahrens, “and with the tornado warning it made me extremely nervous to be walking.” 

Other students stayed inside for a multitude of reasons. “Although I support the cause, I decided to stay inside because the location for the walkout is public, as well as the date and time, and it’s not a small kind of thing,” said senior Jessica Molnar. “It’s nationwide, so it’s well known, and someone who disagrees with this could easily come up and shoot up a big group of students and it’s a huge target.” Molnar also shared that the bad weather and class absences potentially affecting her ability to play in tonight’s lacrosse game impacted her decision as well. 

Missing class was also on the minds of other students alongside other concerns. “I did not want to miss class and I didn’t want to get in trouble,” said freshman Molly Meyers. “There was a walk out at my old school and I participated and we all got in trouble. I understand and I support why people chose to do it and I am in full support of making school safe.” Students who walked out faced no disciplinary consequences, but they were marked absent for the class time that they missed. 

Left to right, junior Anna Wiltzer, junior Nora Zemlick, and sophomore Grace Birko hold their protest signs on Milham Avenue. “I protested because I knew that somebody would see it, and that it could help gain attention and make a movement for change,” Wiltzer said. “I don’t have specific ideas for what anybody in power can do to help us, but we’re relying on our government. We’re the people being represented, we’re the people having these experiences, and we should feel safe in a place we have to be everyday.” (Abby Hosler )

Some students chose not to participate in the event on more philosophical grounds. “I don’t believe something like this sets the tone, especially when there’s several underlying issues that could be addressed as well,” said junior Maxwell Pidgeon. “All the previous mass shootings, including the recent events in Nashville, are terrible,” he continued. “I’m in no way advocating against participating in the walkout, but I personally didn’t think participating would truly serve justice to those involved.” 

Other students were in favor of the message, but not the method.  “I didn’t walk out because it seemed a little pointless. I’m not saying the cause was pointless, but walking out of school did nothing,” said sophomore Ty Sturgeon. “I absolutely support the cause (if I understand it correctly), but I don’t think I can do anything to help support it.” Sophomore Sasha Ailes felt similarly: “I don’t think it really achieved anything,” she stated. “Many people are already aware, and I just don’t think it really helps the cause.” In general, Americans are also divided on what would actually help, with about half of the country believing that reduced access to firearms would reduce gun violence while the other half believe that reduced access would be ineffective. 

Junior Isabella Ritchie stated, “I think no matter what, it is a good cause and it should be put to a stop,” she said. “But walking around in the rain, first of all, is not a good idea. You’re going to get sick. Second of all, the walk in general, I wasn’t sure what it was going to stop and who is it going to inform in the first place.” Haley Downey, also a junior, said: “If I was going to put the time and energy into this cause, I could do it in a different way,” she stated. “I could write a letter to Congress or put together a more organized event to get everyone involved within the school, including admin.” 

In the center of the photograph wearing blue, freshman Levi Arra, a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, went outside but not in support. (Kayla Miller)

At least one student participated even though he didn’t even agree with the message. Freshman Levi Arra, who could be heard among the crowd shouting “God Bless the Second Amendment!” counter to the protestors’ “What do we want?” “Gun reform!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” said that he joined the walkout “to see what it was all about,” but that he was opposed to the cause because gun reform laws “only disarm law-abiding citizens.” Current data indicates that the most common reason for gun ownership in America is for personal protection, which accounts for 63 percent of legal gun ownership. The second closest reason is hunting, which comes in at 40 percent.  

The mixed feelings shared by PN students match nationwide feelings as citizens and lawmakers try to make sense of the reality that guns have deep roots in American society and are also being used in ways that the Founding Fathers might not have foreseen when they wrote the Second Amendment. 

Northern’s walk out was one of over 300 that took place in 31 states and involved thousands of students nationwide. “I’m impressed with the amount of people we had turn out in the rain,” said senior Keira Lloyd. “I think it’s really important that as students we’re standing up for what we need to feel safe at school, because school should be a place where you feel welcomed and you feel safe to go to everyday.”

There are currently no formal plans for future group action on the part of NHS students. Asher indicated that the goals of the three student speakers involved, “encouraging everyone that comes out to continue fighting for these common-sense gun reforms that we’ve been talking about.” Research indicates that most Americans – and 8 in 10 gun owners – support modest legislative changes that promote responsible gun ownership. 

According to, Michigan ranks 24th nationally in terms of gun safety laws and gun violence rates. The state legislature is working on an 11-bill gun safety package that addresses red flag laws and rules for safe storage and universal background checks. Voting continues to fall along party lines. 

Senior Hannah Roberts settles in once the protest reached Milham Avenue. ““I grew up in a very Republican house, but I still feel strongly about gun control, especially since it’s an increasing issue all over the nation,” she said. “In the future, I don’t want to put my own children in a space where they could possibly die from gun violence. It’s something that needs to be taken care of; a second grader is more important than the Second Amendment.” (Annabelle Bartz)

The signs of Northern’s students said it all at the protest – their main focus is feeling safe at school. “My only hope is that the adults in our world continue to work together to make our schools as safe of a place that they can possibly be,” said interim principal Dr. Nathan Ledlow. 

Junior Anna Wiltzer braves the wind and rain with her homemade sign to protest gun violence in Wednesday’s student walk out. (Abby Hosler)


Click here to view all of the photos from the event.