‘Not the norm:’ Brooklyn students demand gun reform after Uvalde shooting

students chant at gun reform protest
Middle and high school students gather at Grand Army Plaza to protest gun violence on June 3, 2022.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

“School shootings are not the norm! We need immediate reform!”

That was the message on Friday, June 3, when a group of around 40 middle and high school children embedded themselves in Grand Army Plaza to protest school shootings and demand legislative action aimed at curbing gun violence.

Their chants overpowered the sounds of screeching traffic around the plaza and elicited honks and cheers from passing drivers, bikers and pedestrians.

“Senators, hear our cries, gun control saves lives!”

For three hours in the afternoon sun, the students chanted slogans, recited poems and spoke passionately into a bullhorn about their anger and fear resulting from continued school shootings and gun violence across the nation.

“We should be in school, but no, we’re immortalizing people who were killed by guns instead,” said Masha Avrutsky, 16, as she held back tears. “It’s kind of hard to speak about it.”

student on a bench at gun reform protest
Tamara Berkowitz-Henkin, 16, organized the student walkout and protest with friends at her high school.Photo by Caroline Ourso

Tamara Berkowitz-Henkin, a 16-year-old student of Bard High School Early College, helped organize the student walk-out. She said the recent spate of mass shootings inspired her to call for the student protest.

“It was right after the Buffalo shooting — no, sorry, it was right after the Uvalde, Texas shooting,” she said, realizing that multiple recent shootings spurred her to action — among them, a May 14 mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket, in which 10 Black people were killed and another three people were injured. Just 10 days later, 19 children and two teachers were killed after a gunman opened fire inside an Uvalde, Texas classroom.

“Assault rifles have become so easy to acquire, which is the reason we’re having shootings multiple times a week at this point,” Berkowitz-Henkin continued.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s a hobby.’ Pick a different hobby. Play piano.”

Other students expressed fiery opinions to their peers, some brought to tears as they recounted their despondency and heartbreak about the dire reality.

“We’re in this powerless situation. All we’re taught is how to hide from people,” said Sophia Levy, 16. “Kids have learned to cover themselves in people’s blood to play dead.”

“We’ve grown up too soon because the adults are acting like children,” said Avrutsky.

students chant while holding signs at gun reform protest
Students call for gun reform at Grand Army Plaza. Photo by Caroline Ourso

Several students called into question the validity and relevance of the Second Amendment in the 21st century.

“The second amendment is hundreds of years old, and it does not take several minutes to load a gun now,” said Judah Firestone-Morrill, 16. He referenced the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, during which 154 rounds were fired in under five minutes.

“You have a right to self-defense, but you don’t have a right to massacre.”

“If we want peace, we cannot listen to an amendment that was made in war,” said Isabella Motch, 15, reading from a poem she wrote.

On Thursday, June 2, students of Sunset Park High School participated in their own walkout to protest gun violence. Brooklyn Paper witnessed what appeared to be the entire student body exit the campus at 12:45 that afternoon.

Staff would not comment on the walkout, but some students shouted, “Stand up for what’s right!” as they exited, and a few held signs calling for gun control.

Congress voted to approve new gun control measures that would limit the sale of semi-automatic weapons and ammunition magazines on Thursday after hearing testimony from parents of the children killed in the Uvalde shooting, but the bill is widely presumed to fail in the Senate.

students talk and hold cardboard signs at grand army plaza gun control protest
Judah Firestone-Morrill and Sophia Levy, both 16, converse during a protest against gun violence at Grand Army Plaza.Photo by Caroline Ourso

The teenage protesters at Grand Army Plaza called on Senator Chuck Schumer, who presides as the Senate majority leader, to convince at least 10 republican senators to vote for gun control measures.

“It’s up to democrats and republicans to work together to solve this problem before more innocent students and teachers are killed,” said a teen speaker.

Schumer pledged to take action on gun violence on the federal level on the Senate floor this week.

“And we don’t really want thoughts and prayers, we need votes,” Schumer said. “We need action. We need action. To stop this despicable bigotry. We are going to vote on gun legislation in the future. And we are going to bring this act up again and again and again in every way we can to make sure that America knows that there are enough people who want to see righteousness done.”

The group ended their protest by chanting in front of Schumer’s apartment in Park Slope, but only park-goers and a few watchful police officers were there to hear the audible desperation in their voices.