Five days after a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school, Bethesda resident Dana Margulis and her three daughters were lying on the ground in front of the White House, playing dead as part of a demonstration in favor of gun control.
Margulis, who said she doesn’t consider herself a “political person,” has friends in Parkland, Fla. Their friends’ children attend a middle school adjacent to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people.
The number of school shootings is “out of control,” Margulis said, and she “can’t sit this one out.”
As the gun debate returned with a vengeance after the Parkland killings, area Jews have marched and rallied in large protests.
Students have been hit hard and wonder if they could be the next victims in what they see as a national crisis.
Some 1,300 teens from Montgomery County on Feb. 21 marched to the U.S. Capitol and the White House demanding that lawmakers stop accepting funds from the National Rifle Association and pass gun control legislation, according to Bethesda Magazine.
“The fact was, this was the 18th school shooting [this year] and we’re not even to March yet,” said Philip Berkowitz, a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, who attended the march.
Berkowitz said lawmakers in the United States should look to European countries and Australia, which place more restrictions on the type of firearms citizens may buy and have more rigorous application processes.
He said he doesn’t think a blanket assault weapons ban like Australia’s is necessary, but that more thorough background checks should be conducted, including at private sales such as gun shows.
“People need to understand that we’re not going to take their guns away,” he said. “They just need to do more rigorous controls. They shouldn’t just have them because they bought it at a local gun show.”
Berkowitz had planned to attend an assembly Monday night at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring with student survivors from the Florida high school. The event was organized by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
The assembly was closed to the press, but Raskin told reporters after that it was “the most inspiring and uplifting couple hours” he had spent in a long time. He credited the survivors of the shooting with starting a social movement among teens across the United States.
“They took a hopeless situation, and they provided hope,” he said.
A day after the march in Washington, students at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville had planned to stage a walkout.
Through social media and a shared Google document, Ilan Cohen, 17, and Nate Miller, 15, discussed plans with other students.
But Cohen said he and several other students were called into a meeting on Feb. 21 with school staff where they were told they were not allowed to engage in political protest.
Miller said the next day there was a sign in front of the school forbidding a walkout, as well as an announcement on the loudspeaker informing students that demonstrating during the school day would be an unexcused absence and “there would be consequences.” The penalty: a 1 percent grade reduction for each class missed.
Marc Lindner, principal of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School High School said the school did not allow the walkout because it was political, and because the school is legally responsible if a student is harmed off campus during the school day.
He said the said if students wish to stage a political protest outside of school, the absence requires a parent’s note of approval.
“We do support our students participating in social action of that type,” he said.
Lindner said plans are in the works to hold a memorial service for the 17 victims of the shooting. He said he is sympathetic to the level of civic engagement that the Florida tragedy has sparked.
“When students are directly impacted by this, and they have friends or classmates who are killed, it makes sense that they would want to do something about it, so this is a positive,” he said.
But it is symptomatic of a world that has changed since Margulis was growing up.
“When I was a child my parents didn’t walk us to the bus stop,” Margulis said.
“Now every single elementary school parent walks them. I know why I’m walking, because every day I think to myself, Is this the last time I’m going to see my child? I know that’s crazy, but that’s why we walk our children to the bus stop.”