Students meet with Ohio lawmakers to discuss school safety

Students from across Ohio met with lawmakers to discuss school safety following the massacre in Parkland, Florida. (WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) - Many Ohio students who walked out of school as part of the National Walkout went to the Statehouse instead of back to class. They met with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to talk to them about gun reform.

They said they want legislative action to stop school violence, not just "thoughts and prayers."

Matthew Youkilis drove from Cincinnati to Columbus to call for gun reform in honor of his cousin, who was killed in the Parkland, Florida massacre. Jamie Guttenberg, 14, was one of 17 people gunned down inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th.

"Her death has really sparked an urge within us to stand up so that no other family has to deal with this again," Youkilis said.

He met with his state senator, Cecil Thomas, to pressure him into changing Ohio's gun laws.

"All too often kids start thinking, 'well, nobody is listening to us, nobody is paying attention to us," said Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati. "Well, I don't want them to leave out of here with that mindset."

Many Democrats like Thomas support gun reform but many Statehouse Republicans have focused on school safety measures like better security, mental health services and tip lines for schools rather than guns.

“I’m not hearing as much that it’s just a gun control issue,” said Sen. Randy Gardner, R - Bowling Green. “It’s a myriad of other things that might be helpful.”

Many of the students who came to the Statehouse aren’t old enough to vote, but they’re old enough to be heard. They said they’re the ones most in danger in schools.

“It can’t just stop with thoughts and prayers,” Youkilis said. “We have to have action and that’s what this is.”

Gardner said lawmakers have been working on more school security measures which could pass in the next few weeks. Thomas said he didn’t think there was enough Republican support to pass gun reform yet.

Those students' peers north of downtown at Whetstone High School supported their cause. Several hundred Whetstone students had a rally outside the school building. Some students spoke out about bullying and gun reform.

The students held a 17 second moment of silence, one second for each person killed in Parkland, Florida.

"We could be the next Parkland or the next Columbine or the next Sandy Hook or any other tragedy that's happened and so we have to speak out in our community and have a voice in our community to make sure it doesn't happen for us," said Rayshon Walker, a student organizer. "We're still in school and we're young but we're young and we're determined, we're young and we're disciplined. We're young and we want to make change. Like I said in my spoken word poem, change, it starts with them and it starts with us."

Around Columbus, students in Westerville, Delaware County and Bexley shared the same message. Westerville North senior Brandy Slone said the violence has to stop.

"A lot of students now are standing up even more than normal becuase they're like finally, this is too much," she said.

The students that walked out Wednesday said they didn't want this moment to pass by. They hope the Ohio teens meeting with lawmakers can help start action to keep them safe.

Senate Democrats issued a statement saying that they stand with students on National Walkout Day.

Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said schools need to be safe places.

"Our young people have sent an important and brave message today," said Yuko. "As legislators, we should listen to them and let their message inspire our actions. The Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus stands with them and stands ready to pass common-sense gun safety laws.”

Minority Whip Edna Brown (D-Toledo) said she was inspired by the students' actions.

She said, "These students have kept the issue of gun violence in the national conversation for a month now and I hope my colleagues in Columbus and Washington will make passing stricter gun control laws a priority.”

Several other Ohio Senate Democrats voiced their stance of solidarity with the students.

Senate Republicans including Senator Jay Hottinger (R- Newark) shared on social media their meeting with students from Sheridan High School.

The Senate Republicans have yet to share where they stand with students.

WSYX/WTTE will continue to follow how leaders are responding to the national walk out.

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