Dozens of Wisconsin students arrived in the hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday morning after walking more than 50 miles to demand tougher gun laws.
Ranging in age from 11 to 18 years old, the students came from communities throughout Wisconsin to join in the 54-mile trek from Madison to Janesville, according to organizers. The journey began on Sunday ― exactly 53 years after Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of civil rights activists into Montgomery, Alabama, after a five-day, 54-mile march that began in Selma.
“Kids have a voice despite not having a vote,” said a 15-year-old marcher at a rally in Janesville. “We will enact change.”
Students from Shorewood High School, just north of Milwaukee, organized the “50 Miles More” march to call out Ryan for blocking gun reform legislation and to demand lawmakers take immediate action to curb gun violence.
The students stopped at every mile to speak the name of a victim of gun violence.
A spokeswoman for Ryan told HuffPost on Monday that the speaker “respects those expressing their views.”
She added that “the House recently enacted new laws to keep children safe without infringing on constitutional rights,” likely referring to legislation that includes expanding federal background checks for gun purchases.
The 50 Miles More movement, however, has a stronger set of demands listed on their website:
Military-style weapons, and all weapons of war, should be banned from civilian society.
All accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, such as bump stocks, should be banned.
Four-day waiting period on all gun purchases.
Require background checks on all gun sales.
Raise the legal purchasing age of all guns to 21
Randy Bryce, a Democrat seeking to challenge Ryan in November’s election, met the students in Janesville and expressed his support for their cause in a statement and on Twitter.
“Paul Ryan, the people of your district ― students, parents, gun owners, veterans, hunters, Republicans and Democrats alike ― are shouting for you to do something,” Bryce said in the statement. “I echo the students in calling for common-sense gun reform, including a ban on all military assault rifles.”
The students’ trek follows weeks of gun reform activism by young people around the country, sparked by the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
On March 14, students around the country staged school walkouts to honor the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting and call attention to gun violence.
On March 24, more than a million students, teachers and activists took to the streets in cities around the U.S. to demand stricter gun control laws.
Organizers of the Wisconsin are calling on students in the 49 other states to embark on similar marches before the November elections.
At Wednesday’s rally, 18-year-old organizer Katie Eder encouraged students not to be daunted by the prospect of walking 50 miles for the cause.
“Every day it was harder for our bodies to keep moving,” Eder said. “So why did we?”
“I kept moving because despite so many people telling us that ending gun violence is impossible ... I believe with every bone in my very sore body that this is the time to do the impossible.”