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San Francisco students, teachers echo national calls for gun control in wake of Parkland shooting

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Students and teachers at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts are joining a national youth-led movement for stricter regulations on guns. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner

Less than two weeks before the one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history changed the lives of many in Parkland, Fla., two high schools in San Francisco went into lockdown after a student was caught carrying a gun on school grounds.

On Feb. 2, a high school student was detained after bringing a gun to the campus shared by the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and the Academy San Francisco at 555 Portola Ave. While the incident did not result in any injuries or shots fired, students and faculty members at both schools waited anxiously as police searched for the student.

On and off  campus, gun violence is an everyday reality for many of The City’s public school students. A national youth-led movement for gun control that emerged in the wake of the deadly Feb. 14 shooting that claimed 17 lives at a Florida high school has inspired activism among San Francisco’s students and teachers about the issue. 

“It’s a horrifyingly regular thing, the amount of gun violence that students experience, whether it’s because they live in an unsafe neighborhood or they are near to gang activity or because they are connected to some sort of domestic violence situation,” said Lyndsay Schlax, a RASOTA teacher who began to advocate for gun control in light of the Florida shooting.  “As teachers, we don’t stop caring about our students’ well being when they walk out of the door.”

California has some of the strictest firearm regulations in the country, and the San Francisco Unified School District has long taken a strong stance against guns.

“SFUSD has a responsibility to address [gun violence] as a public health danger and crisis and make sure we do everything we can to keep our students safe,” said Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, who authored a 2014 resolution that directed the district to support gun control policies, communicate information about gun buyback events and safety practices to families and bring violence prevention curriculum into classrooms.

Still, advocates are pushing for greater protections for youth experiencing gun violence locally and for more restrictive gun control laws nationwide.

At RASOTA, a group of seniors launched a Facebook page called “SF Students #NeverAgain” in an effort to unite students at high schools throughout The City under the viral hashtag that has become the name for the national movement. The students are also organizing locally on Instagram under “#dontriskmylife.”

“The minute the shooting happened, we started talking about how we were going to move forward and how we can get our voices heard,” said Tommye Finan, a senior at RASOTA.

The students have used social media to organize call-ins to local legislators as well as voter registration drives at their school.

“What we are asking for is a ban on civilian access to semi-automatic assault weapons, as well as the accessories that make them function as automatic weapons. We also would like stricter background checks for anyone trying to acquire firearms,” said RASOTA senior Katie Dragone.

The students are also working on a proclamation that is expected to be presented at the Board of Education next week and aims to reinforce the school district’s commitment to gun control and urge support for student action on the issue, according to Chanun Ong, a student delegate for the Student Advisory Council, a student-led organization that represents the interests of SFUSD students.

Students in San Francisco and across the country plan to participate in a 17-minute school walkout commemorating the victims of the Parkland shooting on March 14. A gun control rally in Washington D.C. on March 24 lead by survivors of the shooting is expected to spark similar rallies nationwide.

But the students weren’t the only group affected by gun violence that has leapt into action locally.

Hours after the Parkland shooting, Schlax and two other Bay Area teachers created Facebook group called “Teachers Taking Action Against Gun Violence” to give educators a platform to not only address gun violence, but also its root causes.

“Hunger, exposure to crime and trauma increase the likelihood someone is involved in or subjected to gun violence,” said Schlax. “We need to be listening to teachers who day in and day out see the effects in our classrooms and students. There are a lot of solutions out there that don’t involve arming teachers or putting further restrictions on students.”

Since its launch some two weeks ago, over 7,000 teachers have joined the group, and has resulted in a day of advocacy planned for March 6, in which educators in the Bay Area and beyond will “meet with legislators, each other, their unions, their administration” to discuss ways to support students participating in the upcoming actions, according the group’s page.

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