A handful of Canadian residents gathered at Peace Arch Park on the international border Wednesday morning to rally in support of U.S. students who are calling for tougher gun laws.
“I think the students might make a difference,” said Leona Towers, a White Rock resident who joined the small but determined group at the international boundary marker.
“They need to know they’re supported.”
Organized by White Rock senior Virginia Cameron – whose daughter is an elementary school teacher in Virginia – the rally was also staged as a vigil to remember the 17 students and teachers who were killed on Feb. 14 at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“Today is the second-week anniversary of this terrible tragedy,” Cameron said. “It happened at 11:22 a.m. So, about two minutes from now, two weeks ago, these students were just having normal interactions, and then everything went very, very horribly wrong, when this angry young man armed with an automatic rifle, who was able to obtain it at the age of 18 or 19 years old, walked into the school and started randomly shooting.
“We want to remember and keep up our support of the students who are organizing to change the laws so this won’t happen again.”
The Florida students’ call for the banning of certain assault-type weapons, and for politicians to refuse financial support from the National Rifle Association (NRA), has been the subject of much debate since the rampage.
Rally attendees, armed with nothing more than a pair of homemade signs, were met with honks, thumbs-up and occasional words of support.
“By far, the most positive response is coming from the Americans,” said Jean Kromm, a South Surrey resident who has been active in various Peninsula issues over the years, including the redevelopment project for White Rock’s First United Church.
Comments included “we have to stop this” and “things have to change,” Kromm said.
One southbound traveller who paused on his way past the Peace Arch expressed his appreciation and told the group change was “most needed.”
Ken Hembroff, a South Surrey resident who said he didn’t hesitate to attend Wednesday, praised the Florida teens for taking a stand.
“I just think what the students are doing in the U.S. is fantastic and I do see already a difference happening,” he said, noting some corporations have begun to distance themselves from the NRA.
“They have some momentum for the first time.”
NRA supporters have maintained that protecting the Second Amendment – commonly reduced to the right to bear arms – is paramount, and deny that more restrictions would prevent such attacks.
Newton Linda Chamberlain chided the country’s leaders for not acting first.
“It’s sad that it took students to do this… and not our adults that are running the country,” she said.
Chamberlain said the issue is not about banning gun ownership.
“We’re not saying you can’t have guns,” she said, noting she has family members in Dawson Creek who hunt for food, and an 11-year-old granddaughter who is keen to get her own gun licence.
“It’s what you do with the guns,” Chamberlain said. “When you go to the extreme of killing people, that’s taken out of context.”
Cameron said a second rally is planned for March 14 at the park– the one-month anniversary – also at 11:22 a.m.