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Thousands skip class to rally for gun control, school safety at Minn. Capitol

St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike McGinn claps as students from across the Twin Cities marched by on Marshall Avenue on their way to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to demonstrate against gun violence Wednesday, March 7, 2018. He said his brother is a SRO (school resource officer) at Harding who helps keep the students safe. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)1 / 3
Students from across the Twin Cities marched from St. Paul Central High School to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to demonstrate against gun violence Wednesday, March 7, 2018. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)2 / 3
Loretta Wacek, center, a 9th grade student from St. Paul Central and other students from across the Twin Cities marched from St. Paul Central High School to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to demonstrate against gun violence Wednesday, March 7, 2018. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)3 / 3

ST. PAUL—Students want gun control, and they want it now.

That's what hundreds of students chanted as they marched (and sometimes ran) from Central High School in St. Paul to Leif Erickson Park near the Capitol Wednesday morning during the Minnesota High School Walkout, an event supporting gun control.

About 2,000 people marched and about 5,000 rallied, according to police estimates. From the park, the group moved on to the Capitol, where lawmakers are considering gun and school safety proposals.

The event was planned in the wake of a shooting last month that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Students around the country have been planning walk-outs and calling for gun control ever since.

"There's going to come a time when (these shootings are) closer to us, and we want to get things in place before someone in our community is hurt by that," said St. Paul Academy senior Maya Shrestha, one of the leaders of the event. "We had a lock-down drill last week and even just going into that, it doesn't feel like something that's just a drill anymore."

The march and rally were initiated by students. A group of Central High School friends thought up the idea while watching the news at a birthday party, and, about two weeks later, led the 20-block march. Students from public and private schools all over the eastern Twin Cities joined together, meeting at Central because of its proximity to the Capitol.

"It's our time to speak. It's something that directly affects us. (Other students) just needed the boost to get it planned, and then they're like, 'Oh, we can have a voice now and we can speak out,' " said Central High senior Ellen Carlson, one of the leaders.

Students weren't advocating for any specific gun control, but simply promoting gun laws and anything that enhances their safety in schools.

"Me and other people have been feeling extremely unsafe at school now that the threat of school shootings has been normalized, and we're trying to do anything we can to stop it," said Julian Walters, a freshman at Highland Park Senior who participated in the march.

State Reps. Dave Pinto and Erin Murphy addressed the students, urging those eligible to vote in the next election to make their voices heard. Students spoke to the group as well.

"This doesn't end tomorrow. This doesn't end next week. This doesn't end when the laws are changed," St. Paul Academy Senior Breandan Gibbons said during the rally. "This ends when there is not a single mass shooting in the United States."