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Hundreds attend March For Our Lives in Brainerd

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Marchers cross the Mississippi River in Brainerd during the March For Our Lives event Saturday, March 25. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 5
People cross the Washington Street Bridge as they take part in a March for Our Lives event Saturday in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 5
People walk along Washington Street Saturday in Brainerd during the March for our Lives event. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video4 / 5
A 14-year-old Forestview Middle School student holds his sign as people gather to take part in the March For Our Lives event in Brainerd Saturday. Hundreds gathered in Gregory Park for a march and rally. Full story, photos, video to follow. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 5

Saying "it won't happen here" can no longer be an expectation when it comes to a school shooting, said Brainerd High School senior Thea Fisher Saturday at the March For Our Lives.

Several hundred people turned out in Gregory Park for the gathering in Brainerd.

"Since Columbine, more than 187,000 students have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, with studies concluding the students who witnessed the attack can be just as traumatized as the children who have been shot or stabbed," Fisher said. "What burden are we asking our youth to carry? At what cost?"

Fisher said when a bipartisan effort for universal background checks on gun sales was proposed in the state Legislature, the bill was never heard. She pointed specifically to Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who was critical of the universal background check as an idea as that wouldn't work, the Star Tribune reported.

"Need we remind these legislators who they work for?" Fisher said.

Fisher said this issue will also be before area voters April 10 for the Brainerd School District referendum as the first two questions include improving school building safety and the learning environment.

"While this is an important step, especially at the local level, this is not what we are marching for," Fisher said. "The 17 students who lost their lives in a building that should be an oasis for learning needed laws to prevent Nikolas Cruz from obtaining his self-described arsenal."

Fisher said the march was a call for legislators to take this issue as seriously as those who enter a workplace every day where they can no longer expect it won't happen here.

Lori Howe and Phil Kuehn of Brainerd attended the march with their 14-year-old son Michael, a Forestview eighth-grader.

"I just think that one of the slogans is 'enough is enough'—so to show some solidarity and support for all the young people that are here to get an education and not be afraid to get an education, that's why I'm here," Kuehn said.

For Michael, his homemade sign spoke for him: "Will I be next?"

Kuehn carried a sign stating; "Arms are for hugging."

"I know that other people have lots of different messages," Kuehn said. "It's not that there is absolutely no place at all for guns. Every gun has a time and a place and in school is not the appropriate place."

For Howe, the reason to be at the march was weighty and simple.

"It's such an important issue and we need to take kids seriously," she said. "They want a safe place to be able to learn. Enough said."

Those gathered were treated to a crisp but sunny afternoon, with temperatures in the upper 30s offset by a brisk and cold breeze. They carried signs saying: Enough, hunters against the NRA, never again, gun control now, one is too many, students demand action, books not bullets, arms are for hugging, protect kids not guns. About 300 people took part in the march, gathering first at Gregory Park and walking along Washington Street..Along the way, organizers said marchers were met by some snowballs and raw eggs. Marchers, a mix of all ages from young children to retirees, returned to the park for a rally.

Speakers included Leslie Moughty, First Congregational United Church of Christ in Brainerd; Diana Charboneau, Stand Up Brainerd Lakes administrator; Skip Sandman, Vietnam veteran and gun owner; Fisher; and Congressman Rick Nolan.

They talked about what they should do as citizens to solve the school safety problem, how they never expected teachers or students—their children or grandchildren—to worry about surviving a school shooting and that talking was important to craft a solution.

Nolan said they were marching for gun safety and were going to make a difference. The politicians, teachers, parents and grandparents couldn't get it done, he added.

"But I tell you who's going to get it done," Nolan said. "It's going to be the youth of America— that's who."

Nolan said he talked to a number of people who had family members and grandchildren marching Saturday in Washington, D.C. Nolan asked those gathered how many shells they could have in their guns when they are shooting ducks. Three, he said, in order to save the lives of ducks to keep a population alive to hunt in future years. Nolan said people can have as many shells in their guns as they wanted when shooting people in church or when shooting those out enjoying a weekend night.

"You can have as many shells in your gun as you want—as many shells as you want—when you are shooting children in our schools," Nolan said, asking if it was wrong people weren't give the same protection afforded to ducks. He then asked the crowd if they were ready for a ban on assault weapons, high capacity magazines and bump stocks. Each time, people shouted "yeah." He also asked if they were in favor of closing gun show loopholes and providing more for mental health treatment.

Nolan said anytime people stand up for things that are noble, important and idealistic, they cannot fail. Amid cheers from the crowd, he urged those gathered not to quit until they were successful.

The rally concluded with a moment of silence. The event was hosted by the Crow Wing County DFL, Moms Demand Action, Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace and the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Brainerd.

Call for action

On the March For Our Lives' website 827 events were listed worldwide. In Minnesota, two local events made the organizer's map of marches—in Brainerd and Aitkin. Marches also were planned in Willmar, Sartell, Starbuck, Grand Rapids, Duluth, Ely, Grand Marais, St. Paul, North Branch, Rochester and Winona.

Stand Up Brainerd Lakes and the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace Saturday sponsored the Brainerd March for Our Lives Rally.

The movement arose after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The march demands students' lives and safety become a priority, and seeks an end to gun violence and mass shootings in schools and communities.

This story was updated to correct a first name spelling for Cruz.