Bryan Brandel was admittedly nervous joining the masses assembled at the Idaho Capitol on Saturday morning. But in his heart of hearts, he knew he had to go.
Brandel was among the thousands of people who showed up for the March for Our Lives rally in Boise, a call to action nationwide spearheaded by a group of Parkland, Florida, teenagers after a gunman killed 14 of their classmates and three faculty members on Valentine’s Day. Activists seeking sensible gun control measures – many of the leaders of the current drive are students – scheduled rallies and marches in all 50 U.S. states and on six continents in attempt to better regulate guns.
Students and adults holding signs reading “Protect our Kids’ filled the lawn. Other signs read “Fear has no place in school” and “Arms are for hugging, not killing.” The crowd stretched across the lawn toward the crosswalk at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Capitol Boulevard.
Brandel, however, held a different sign: “I am a hunter who supports common sense laws.”
Despite the fact many of his friends stand on the opposite side of the gun control debate, Brandel said he needed to be strong. He was one of several gun owners at Saturday’s rally advocating for tighter gun laws.
“(I’m here) to represent a moderate position where, I own guns but I also support gun control laws,” Brandel said. “I have two kids and I’m sick of the violence that I have seen in our schools and outside our schools and across the country.”
In Boise, the rally was filled with emotional statements and song. The mass of men, women and children chanting “enough is enough” was deafening; the moment of silence held for those who died in Parkland made just as much of an impact.
Those against new gun-control regulations also showed up at the rally, in far fewer numbers. Alex Bloom and Isaiah Kohler, seniors at Centennial High School, said they were among 10-20 counterprotesters.
“We believe that it’s better for people to be able to have their rights,” Bloom said. “We disagree with protesting to the government asking them to take away some of our rights.”
One of the student organizers, Centennial High senior Gabby Martinez Zavalia, said the goal isn’t to take away everyone’s guns – just to have common-sense measures regarding background checks, assault rifles and bump stocks.
“School is a place you go to feel safe. Some students feel it’s the only place they actually feel safe,” she said. “Now the only place we have to feel safe is being taken away from us.”
“There’s 8th graders worried about going to school. I don’t think that should be something that 8th graders have to worry about, having an active shooter at their school.”
At one point in the rally, a student sang Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” and the crowd joined in. Then, after an hour or so worth of speeches, the crowd began moving. Marchers left the Capitol steps and headed down 8th Street before coming back up 6th Street.
Anahii Jimenez, a junior at Rocky Mountain High School, was another of the event’s organizers. For her, Saturday was an important step toward achieving the ultimate goal: no more mass shootings.
“It’s important to me because it’s my life. I have nephews and nieces and I don’t ever want them to be so terrified or to go through a shooting,” Jimenez said. “It affects everyone. If you say it doesn’t affect you, it does.”
Kohler and Bloom said the bigger issue than regulating guns is mental health.
“I think that’s the No. 1 thing we need to work on,” Kohler said. “I really think that we should start putting a psych evaluation in and getting people the mental health they need and deserve.”
Though vastly outnumbered and not necessarily welcome, Bloom and Kohler said they appreciated engaging in open dialogue with those on the other side.
“It’s been fantastic to have all these open conversations with people,” Kohler said. “There’s been a lot of unhappy people, but there’s been a ton of really open conversations.”
Saturday’s March for Our Lives was not just for students. Adults ranging from their 20s to their 70s marched with teenagers, all with similar goals in mind.
Noelle Ihli, a parent of two, was one of the rally’s adult organizers. She said Saturday was her chance to finally step to the plate and take the action she felt was a long time coming.
“I’ve cared about this issue for a long time. Like most people, I’m afraid to say it, I’ve been … numb to it,” Ihli said. “I have two elementary school students and I worry about them every day.”
Ihli worked with students at Boise schools on Saturday’s event. The dedication that thousands of students around the country have shown in organizing March for Our Lives isn’t necessarily surprising to her.
It is, however, impressive on a lot of fronts, she said.
“I was really inspired by the high school students who were saying, ‘I don’t even have a vote, but I’m going to do something about this and make a change,’ ” Ihli said. “I’ve gained a new respect for these high school students. It’s inspiring. I think it’s really affirming of humanity in general.”