Thousands of students and adults attended a half dozen March For Our Lives events across South Carolina Saturday, echoing similar themes for gun control and against violence following the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in February.
In North Charleston, security staff estimated that 1,200 to 1,500 people marched to Riverfront Park for a rally. About 2,000 gathered outside the Statehouse in Columbia.
Chants of “Never Again,” “Enough is Enough,” and “This is What Democracy Looks Like” rang from mostly young voices. Many carried hand-made signs calling for action on gun reforms.
The demonstrations were part of growing calls to ban bump stocks and the sale of semi-automatic rifles, raise the minimum age to purchase guns to 21, and get rid of a loophole not requiring background checks for private sales at gun shows.
Sydney Clinton, a Fort Dorchester High School student, said she was moved to co-organize a march and rally the day after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The 16-year-old recalled she was sitting at lunch when the fire alarm went off and she thought about how the gunman had pulled the alarm at Douglas before shooting. The alarm scared her and she thought, “Is it a copycat? Or is it a fire drill?”
Afterward, she resolved to do something, brainstormed ideas and got with friends to organize the march.
On Saturday, her opening remarks urged students to continue efforts. “You have a voice and you need to use it. … It’s your duty to vote.”
Some students who spoke directly criticized politicians who have not been supportive of gun control efforts in the past.
Jacob Gamble, a sophomore at Ashley Ridge High School, zeroed in on Gov. Henry McMaster, who previously called student school walkouts over gun violence “shameful.”
“Gov. McMaster, we won’t forget your comments about our movement,” said Gamble, adding that all should refuse being labeled the “Columbine Generation.”
Jefferson Taylor, a sophomore at Palmetto Scholars Academy, called President Donald Trump “the resident fool of the United States” and said Saturday's Marches For Our Lives marked the beginning of the political muscle of “Generation Z.”
Lauren Haselden, a senior at the Academic Magnet High School, urged adults to vote, youth to speak up and lawmakers to support gun control measures. She also said arming teachers is not the solution.
“You don’t need more guns in school," she said. "You don’t fight fire with fire because that turns everything to ashes.”
One of the few adults invited to speak, Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Brady Quirk-Garvan, urged the students not to let people tell them they are too young to participate in the political system.
"You're time is now," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're 18, 25 or 30; you have a seat at the table."
The rally featured a booth for people to register to vote and volunteers said about 30 had done so mid-way through the event.
Saturday’s North Charleston rally also included entertainment. Rapper Cash Sinatra, who lives in New York, was contacted by the organizers via Twitter and flew in to sing one song, “The Promised Land.” A student sang John Lennon's "Imagine" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."
In Columbia, marchers filled the steps of the Statehouse and its nearby grounds to call for reforming gun laws.
Davian Thomas, a student at AC Flora High School, spoke first. He said his friend died from gun violence.
March For Our Lives North Charleston
Thousands of demonstrators march down Noisette boulevard towards Riverfront Park in North Charleston as part of the national March For Our Lives marches across the country hoping to make change against and stop gun violence Saturday, March 24, 2018.
"We have people in the statehouse, people in D.C., who are doing absolutely nothing about it," he said.
Sharrian Gunter, a Columbia volunteer, watched from under a Moms Demand Action tent. Her 16-year-old granddaughter attends high school in South Florida. On the day of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Gunter’s relatives called her in a panic.
“They said, ‘What school does my grandbaby go to?’” Gunter said. “It wasn’t her school. But it could have been her school.”
Among the elected officials at the Columbia event were Mayor Steve Benjamin, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. James Smith of Columbia and state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, who has seen his colleagues stall his efforts to pass stricter gun legislation.