Wisconsin Students Are Marching 50 Miles to Paul Ryan's Hometown to Press for Tougher Gun Laws

For each mile of the route, they are spotlighting on social media a victim of gun violence

Some Wisconsin students who took their demonstration against gun violence on the road reached their destination Wednesday — House Speaker Paul Ryan's home turf.

About 50 students set out Sunday from Madison on their "50 Miles More" march. They reached their destination in Janesville and demonstrated in a park for stricter gun laws. Ryan, a Republican who has opposed gun restrictions, is in the Czech Republic on an official visit and was not there when the marchers arrived.

The march came more than a month after a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

As the students trekked through rural Wisconsin on Monday, organizer Brendan Fardella said they were determined to keep people passionate about their issue.

"We want to keep it going, we want to keep it in the news cycle, keep people empowered and passionate for as long as we can until there's common sense gun reform or until we get to November and all of these politicians are up for re-election and we vote them out if they don't do anything," Fardella said.

Shorewood High School senior Katie Eder told the State Journal that kids may be only 25 percent of the nation's population, but they are 100 percent of the future and committed to making that future safe for everyone. 

Eder, 18, said the participating students, who are all on spring break this week, came from Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Oregon and other places around Wisconsin. They and adult volunteers are walking about 13 miles during the day and spending nights in schools along the route. 

For each mile of the route, they are spotlighting on social media a victim of gun violence. The first victim was Jaelynn Wiley, a 16-year-old who died last week after she was shot by another student at Great Mills High School in Maryland. 

The group said on their website that they are targeting Ryan "for his lead role in blocking and burying any chance of gun reform again and again." 

The students said they want a ban on military-style guns and accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons. They also want a four-day waiting period for all gun purchases, background checks on all gun sales, and the legal age to buy a gun increased to 21.

Bea Windorski said she marched because gun violence "affects every single American, especially the students of America. Enough is enough."

The students carried signs reading "No more silence! End gun violence" and "Books not bullets," and they chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go."

One supporter took the podium during the demonstration and broke down in tears.

"I am standing here so my voice is heard. We are all standing here so our voices will be heard. And if Paul Ryan and other politicians refuse, then we will take our voices to the voting booth in November," said Maria Mandoza, a march supporter.

Katie Eder, one of the march organizers, said she kept moving "because despite so many people telling us that ending gun violence is impossible, it's too ambitious, it's too difficult, I believe with every bone in my very sore body that this is the time to do the impossible."

Not all the speakers were students. Pardeep Kaleka, whose father and five others were fatally shot at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012, also spoke. He said the students were an answer to his father's prayers that he said as he was dying.

Asked to comment on the students' list of demands, their march and the hundreds of thousands of those who protested over the weekend, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said, "the speaker respects those expressing their views." 

"The House recently enacted new laws to keep children safe without infringing on constitutional rights,” she added in a statement.

Last week, Congress passed a spending bill that offers additional federal grants to prod federal agencies and states to send already required records to the federal background check system. The bill also includes money for funding mental health programs, threat reporting systems, and security training for school personnel, law enforcement and students. 

"The support we've been getting from people has been so amazing that it makes me want to keep going," Tatiana Washington, a student from Milwaukee, said.

"I do have a bit of blisters on my feet but other than that I'm good," Washington said. "I like it."

Adult volunteers walked with the students, who spent the nights in schools along the route.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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