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Students, community members take to state Capitol to demand gun reform

Legacy High School senior and event organizer Taylor Toso speaks to the crowd at the March For Our Lives event on the state capitol grounds on Saturday afternoon. Toso said he decided to organize the event after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February. He said he was angered by the shooting and inspired by the survivors to take action. In memory of the 17 students and staff killed, there were 17 backpacks placed behind the podium. (Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune)1 / 3
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Siblings Brennen Fode, 13, left, and sister Reagen, 10, were among an estimated 150 people at the March For Our Lives rally on the grounds of the state capitol in Bismarck on Saturday. (Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune)3 / 3

BISMARCK —- About 150 people rallied against gun violence and demanded gun reform against the backdrop of the North Dakota State Library on Saturday, March 24, in Bismarck.

They carried signs reading, "Support students, not the NRA," "We deserve a future," and "Let's talk." They laid 17 backpacks on the steps of the state library to represent the 17 students and staff who were killed in a school shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

North Dakotans joined the more than 800 marches held in every state in the U.S. and around the world Saturday, including the larger student-led March for Our Lives event in Washington.

Even with blustery weather and about 4 inches of fresh snow, local students, parents and community members gathered at the state Capitol grounds to talk about recent mass shootings and changes to gun legislation.

"Gun violence has invaded out schools, it has also plagued our places of worship, our theaters, our clubs, our concerts and even the parking lots of our grocery stores," said Katie Tschosik, a senior at Bismarck High School who spoke at the event. "We cannot arm every usher, religious leader and cashier. Rather than promoting reactive measures, it's time we begin promoting preventative ones."

Ten days ago, dozens of Bismarck-Mandan students walked out of their classrooms to bring attention to gun reform. This latest event at the state Capitol marks yet another demonstration as part of a movement led by students in response to recent school shootings.

The national March for Our Lives web page circulated a petition that calls for a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as closing background check loopholes that allow people who shouldn't be able to buy guns purchase them online or at gun shows.

On Saturday, some students said they agreed with the notion that no one should have access to assault rifles and said there should be more mental health resources in schools.

"Change needs to happen," said Caroline Cady, 14, an eighth grader at Horizon Middle School in Bismarck. She attended the event on Saturday with her friend Kathryn Brown, 15, a freshman at Century High School.

"I think too many people have lost their lives for us to fail to change anything, for us to just sit around and think that's alright," Brown said. "It happened there, it can happen to us."

Some of the younger participants in the crowd included Reagen Fode, 10, and Brennen Fode, 13. Their mother, Rosann Jacobs-Fode, who is also an English teacher at Bismarck High School, brought them to the event to support the teens who organized it, many of whom are her own students.

"It's difficult seeing students placed in situations where they no longer feel safe at their schools, and it's just amazing to me to watch these kids stand up," Jacobs-Fode said.

She mentioned community backlash her students received when organizing the recent school walkout, including insults from people on social media. She said some of the students who walked out of Bismarck High School were her best students, are involved in multiple Advanced Placement classes and are "going places," so she was disheartened to see the mean comments.

"These are good kids, and they're trying to create change, to open that dialogue, and if we don't start talking about what we need to do to fix the problem that we have, we're never going to find a solution," she said.

Tschosik, one of the speakers at the event, spoke about how more needs to be done to reduce gun violence in schools, and disputed the belief that this can be solved with more considerate students.

"Some have stated that the way to avert all mass shootings is with kindness. While I feel like we could all be a little more kinder in our everyday lives, the issue of gun violence truly extends beyond the dilemma of solicitude," she said. "We should walk up, but we must also walk out because we need legislative action."

Taylor Toso, 18, a senior at Legacy High School, and one of the organizers of the event, said he decided to got involved in the movement after the Feb. 14 shooting. It angered him to think that he and others have become desensitized to school shootings, and that it's "normal that there are periodic slaughters of children in our schools."

Toso said was inspired by the survivors and students and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who spoke during a cable news town hall just a week after the shooting.

"I watched as kids my age, with tears in their eyes, face the adults who are supposed to protect them," he said. "I was blown away by their courage and strength. After only (seven) days after the shooting, they took action. That is why I am here in front of you all today."

In his speech, Toso encouraged more students to turn out for the general election in November.

"Ultimately, we have the power. We, as citizens, vote our representatives in, we as citizens can vote them out ... we have the power to hold them accountable and use our power to ensure they follow our demands," he said.