From Survivor to Voter: Students Lead March and Registration Drive After Deadly School Shooting

Students marched for stronger gun-safety laws Sunday after a fatal shooting at their high school

KIm Hudson

“We have to vote to make sure this never happens again!”

That was the welcome back to campus by 17-year-old Veronica Russell. 

Russell survived the school shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in South St. Louis, Mo. on October 24. Along with CVPA senior Rayquan Strickland, she helped organize Sunday’s March for Justice.

“I am kinda bummed because I have to wait to make a change,” Russell said once marchers returned to the school’s running track.

She was too young to vote in Tuesday’s election, which pitted Democratic candidates in favor of stricter gun-safety laws against Republican candidates who supported legislation which Everytown for Gun Safety calls “some of the weakest in the country”.

In 2021, Republican Governor Mike Parson signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act into law. The legislation stands in stark contrast to Illinois’ Firearms Restraining Order Act. The Illinois law allows courts to have police temporarily seize the guns, ammunition, and parts to assemble guns from someone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. The Missouri law forbids law enforcement seizure of weapons unless owners break a law. There is no exception spelled out for those who express a desire to do harm or have a mental-health crisis.

After the shooting at CVPA, St. Louis Metropolitan Police announced their findings. Interim Chief Michael Sack said the mother of the shooter, 19-year-old Orlando Harris, reached out for help. The mother said her son showed signs of being a danger to others. On Saturday, October 15, police seized the high-powered and high-capacity weapon later used in the shooting. Police gave the gun to another person who could lawfully possess it. Sack said the department is investigating how Harris retrieved the weapon to kill a teacher, a student, and injure several others. If the first calls for help were made in Illinois, the gun would likely have been in police custody pending a ruling by a court.

“Our gun laws are way too lax,” Russell said. “We need to make sure no one can have access to an AR assault rifle, a weapon of mass destruction.”

She urged those who could, to vote for candidates promising to strengthen gun-safety laws in Missouri. She expressed gratitude for the staff counselors at CVPA. However, she hoped others would vote for candidates that would fund training and pay for mental-health professionals certified in issues like trauma.

“Sometimes, there is a chemical imbalance in our brains that has to be addressed. Sometimes, you need more than to just talk to someone. I wish there were laws that gave us that.”

Right before the march, about a half-dozen new voters listened. It was too late for them to register for the November 2022 election. However, Keith Robinson of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute was excited.

“Bring them on!”

The institute aims to “facilitate a dramatic shift from protest to politics” through voter education. Robison acknowledged that some registered voters were eligible, but unwilling, to vote in Tuesday’s elections. He spoke to their belief that their votes would only be taken for granted.

“You can’t just give up. It’s about what affects the community. When one person votes, that’s one thing. When we all vote, we can form a voting bloc.”

He then urged voters to be selfish, and vote for candidates that will support issues that affect them individually.

“You have to vote for the things that affect you. Next time, it could be you, your child, your community.”
On Tuesday, November 8th, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute will offer rides to the polls. Call (314) 562-0411. The institute also has a palm card with a list of voter rights.

Images submitted by Kim Hudson


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