After they mobilized more than 1,200 people for a march against gun violence in response to a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, the Charleston area teenagers went out for celebratory pizza.
Then they plotted their next move.
They're only in high school, and a few aren't even old enough to vote. But the young activists behind the"March for Our Lives" demonstration at North Charleston's Riverfront Park last month aren't done yet.
Dissatisfied with sluggish progress — and outright resistance — for gun-law reform, they're taking a page from the Parkland shooting survivors' playbook, petitioning their lawmakers and signing their classmates up to vote.
"If it was just a one and done deal, the lawmakers and politicians and legislators would have let it slide and waited for the movement to slow down," said 18-year-old Lauren Haselden, a senior at Academic Magnet High School. "We knew that we had to keep doing big things and getting people to show up and raise their voices."
Like many of her peers, Haselden was shaken by the news of the massacre at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. A 19-year-old gunman wielding an AR-15 had killed 17 students, teachers and coaches on Valentine's Day, the deadliest school shooting since the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., six years earlier.
Haselden remembers sitting in her classroom one morning shortly after the shooting when a voice came over the intercom. It was the morning announcements. Still, she immediately "froze up," fearing the worst.
"I just started thinking about how I have two little brothers that still have years left to go, and I don't want them to be afraid when they’re sitting in the classroom," she said. "It’s a place where they should feel safe."
Haselden joined forces with students from Ashley Ridge High, Fort Dorchester High and Palmetto Scholars Academy to organize the "March for Our Lives" sister march in North Charleston on March 24 in solidarity with the Parkland survivors spearheading a national movement for gun control.
They raised more than $11,000 on GoFundMe to pay for fliers, banners, water, permits, EMS and police, stage and PA rentals and security staff. The turnout, said Jacob Gamble, a senior at Ashley Ridge, was better than they expected. Volunteers even registered attendees to vote.
"We knew we had to keep our foot on the gas," Gamble said. "It's easy to come out for one day and demand action and then go home and never do anything again."
Like the Parkland students who lobbied their own legislators for gun control, Gamble, Haselden and their march co-organizers now plan to head for the Statehouse at the invitation of state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, to push for Senate Bill 516.
The measure, according to Kimpson, is the only gun control bill poised to pass at least one body of the General Assembly this year before the session ends.
Sponsored by Kimpson and Republican Sen. Greg Gregory of Lancaster, the bill would close the so-called "Charleston loophole" by extending the waiting period from three days to five for anyone seeking to buy a gun while undergoing a criminal background check. It would also require clerks of courts to speed up reporting of criminal case information to the state Law Enforcement Division.
"These kids are smart. They've studied the issue, and they’re committed to doing the work," Kimpson said. "They recognize that legislation is key or else it's just talk."
Gamble said he and other organizers also hope to arrange town halls on gun control with South Carolina U.S. Reps. Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat Jim Clyburn, and the state's gubernatorial candidates. So far, Gamble said, Democratic candidate for governor Phil Noble has confirmed he would participate.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think there was a possibility for change," said Gamble, who is working on setting up a voter registration booth at his school. "There's definitely evidence that we can create change that we want to see."