SARATOGA SPRINGS — More than 100 adults and students from Saratoga Springs High School and the Waldorf School gathered on the steps of City Hall Friday morning as part of a nationwide student walkout movement to push for gun control laws and better school safety.
"This is an important issue for us to be talking about," said Saratoga Springs High School junior Padraig Bond. "It starts here."
Bond organized the event, at which students demanded universal comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, a ban on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, and to end the Dickey Amendment, which restricts funding for government study of gun violence.
The walkout took place on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
Margot Tanner, a Saratoga Springs High School senior, said school shootings should have ended with Columbine in 1999.
"I don't believe we should live in a world where we should fear going to school," she said. "Our country hasn't done anything to make schools safer."
Tanner said school shootings make her unsure about the world in which her children will live.
"I shouldn't have to think about homeschooling my children or always making sure I'm texting my parents to tell them I'm alright," she said.
Though no one was formally protesting in opposition at Friday's walkout, a passerby shouted, "Move to England!"
Middle Grove resident Diane Czechowicz joined the students Friday to show her support.
"I was devastated after Sandy Hook," she said about the Connecticut school shooting in December 2012 that took the lives of 20 children and six adults. "I have to be involved for my children, my grandchildren and for the entire country."
Czechowicz said she believes students are making a difference.
"I'm so proud of them," she said, tearing up. "The rest of us have tried, but it took kids to speak up to make an impact.
"I believe this movement will continue."
Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly commended the students for organizing Friday's walkout.
"You can't stop what you're doing," she said to the crowd. "You're the voices of the future, and your vote counts, so register to vote and make a difference."
In March, the Saratoga Springs City Council unanimously voted to ban sales of guns and ammunition at the Saratoga Springs City Center. That ban will go into effect immediately after a May 26 gun show at the center, because the contract for the event had already been inked when the ban was approved.
Kelly said the city would host a gun buyback program at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs on the same day as that gun show.
"I'm glad the mayor took action," said Saratoga Springs High School senior Megan Walterich. "Children shouldn't be dying."
For Bond, this was the first time he's gotten involved with any form of activism, and he said he wouldn't stop after Friday's walkout.
"Today is the first step," he said. "There will be more meetings with organizations in our school and throughout the community to better understand what our future plans are."
Bond's father, Will, said he's proud of his son for becoming civically engaged.
"He's teaching me to be more engaged," Will said. "It's a huge wake-up moment as an adult."
Will said he hopes the students continue their efforts after Friday.
"I hope they gain momentum and create a national chain that keeps the momentum going," he said. "They should support each other and keep growing the network.
"There are a lot of issues they can talk about, so it's endless what they can do."