Marchers rally for 'common sense gun laws'

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Nearly 100 people marched from Jasper Middle School along St. Charles Street as part of the March for Our Lives demonstration organized locally by ONE-Dubois County in Jasper on Saturday. "Our voices should not be suppressed, even if we don't agree, that's what democracy is," Laurie Becher of Jasper said. "It is a time for people, if they feel compelled, to stand up and speak out, because the world needs to hear your voice."

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — About 100 people crowded under the shelter house roof by the track at Jasper Middle School Saturday morning for the March for Our Lives protest for stricter gun laws hosted by ONE Dubois County.

The participants sought a reprieve from the rain and wind that plagued march day in Southwest Indiana, but the weather didn’t stop the marchers from walking the 2 miles from Jasper Middle School to a field of flags local activists placed along St. Charles Street in February.

The event attracted people from surrounding counties as well, with some marchers coming from Santa Claus and French Lick. It was one of more than 800 March for Our Lives marches worldwide that were part of a movement organized by the survivors of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

Nancy Habig of Jasper, one of the event organizers and former Jasper School Board members, was one of the speakers at Dubois County’s event Saturday.

“We are alive to stand for the ones who are not, to be their voice,” she told the group.

Another speaker, Dan Barrett of Jasper, elicited cheers from the crowd with his comments.

“The politicians don’t want to listen to us,” he said. “They want to listen to the big money in the NRA (National Rifle Association) ... Let’s get the politicians behind us instead of the NRA.”

Nikita Fischer of Dubois, 16, attended the March for Our Lives rally in Jasper on Saturday. "I feel like there needs to be some change," Nikita said. "Because we haven't really done anything nationwide since Columbine, and that's not acceptable."

As the marchers paraded along Portersville Road and St. Charles Street, they chanted slogans including “USA not NRA” and “Books not bullets.”

Several marchers also carried signs with slogans such as “Guns Kill People” and “Protect Our Children.”

Dubois High School student Mikita Fischer, 16, marched with a sign covered in the names of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students that said “Not a Statistic. Enough is enough.”

Fischer said her family owns guns and she isn’t advocating an end to legal gun owners. She simply wants to see more regulation.

“I’m just really tired of people my age and younger being killed,” she said.

ONE Dubois County had a petition for marchers to sign if they wanted. The petition called for “common sense gun laws” such as funding mental health care, requiring all states to submit comprehensive mental health records to the National Instant Background Check System, requiring background checks for private sales and at gun shows, banning online gun and ammunition sales and mandating gun safety education to safely store weapons.

Several marchers emphasized that they don’t want to ban all gun ownership and they have no problem with hunting rifles or handguns. They simply don’t believe civilians need assault-style weapons, particularly AR-15 sporting rifles (the AR in AR-15 stands for ArmaLite rifle, after the company that developed it).

The marchers also don’t see a need for high capacity magazines or bump stocks, which are “devices used with a semiautomatic firearm to increase the firearm’s cyclic firing rate to mimic nearly continuous automatic fire,” according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Julie Melchior of Ferdinand, left, and her sister Jeanne Melchior of Jasper stood in support of the March for Our Lives in Jasper on Saturday. "I'm here because I think that this is an issue that you cannot ignore," Julie Melchior said. "Time after time there's this brutal slaughter and no one is willing to take political action to stop it." Those who could not march either drove in cars next to the marchers or stood at various points along the route.

“I think people should be allowed to go squirrel hunting, deer hunting or target shooting. I don’t have a problem with that,” said Francine Wall, a reverend from French Lick who served many years at Trinity United Church of Christ in Jasper. “But automatic weapons, rapid-fire weapons, their purpose is to kill people. The average homeowner, the average target shooter doesn’t need that.”

The marchers met the only counter protester at the end of the event as they pulled up the flags placed in February. John King of Jasper walked down St. Charles Street — in front of the hill where the flags were — waving a Soviet Union flag and yelling obscenities at the marchers. He also carried a sign saying that the Soviet Union disarmed its citizens, and then killed 40 million of them.

“These kind of people are responsible for the deaths of millions of people worldwide,” King said when The Herald asked why he was yelling curse words.

He defined “these kind of people” as communist-inclined people.

King believes guns laws are fine the way they are. He wondered how the Parkland shooter was able to get a gun and get into the school and believes that somewhere along the line, people whose job it is to protect the students failed.

Laurie Becher of Jasper sang as she picked up the flags representing lives lost to gun violence at the end of the march at St. Charles Street in Jasper on Saturday. "It's deep emotion, it's collective emotion for all the suffering and violence in the world," Becher said. "It really is, for me a moment of weeping and sadness."

“Why do they still have jobs?” he wondered of the law enforcement officers who responded to calls about the shooter in the months leading up to the shooting and the school administrators who made it possible for the shooter to enter the building with weapons.

As far as banning the AR-15, King said that won’t solve the issue. Shooters will simply use other types of guns, and activists will call for the banning of those firearms “until all I have left is my kitchen knife.”

The March for Our Lives will not be the last event in Dubois County calling for stricter gun laws. A group of Jasper High School students is planning a walk out for 10 a.m. April 20 — the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado — to advocate for prioritizing student safety and teen mental health care. The event can be found on Instagram, @jhsgunviolencewalkout.

John King of Jasper yelled at March for Our Lives demonstrators at the end of the march at St. Charles Street in Jasper on Saturday. King carried a Soviet Union flag and a sign reading "Never Again, Soviet Union, All guns banned, 40 million murdered."



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