Students: “We Demand an Assault Weapons Ban”

At least 135 CPS students have been shot this school year

A crowd of nearly 100 people gathered in Federal Plaza on Thursday, some from as far away as Washington, D.C.,  to lobby for national handgun and assault gun legislation.

The rally comes during a week that's seen four Chicago Public Schools students, including 7-year old Desaree Sanders, become the victim of gunfire, Father Michael Pfleger said.

"This is an American epidemic," he declared.

Among those marching were 43 students from Howard University, located in the nation's capitol, who are spending their spring break in Chicago on a mission to talk to high school students and to try and effect change.

"When I was in high school, I was in 10th grade and my brother went out to a party," said Mesha Nelson of Atlanta.  "And they got to shooting."

Her brother survived, but the shooting left an indelible mark on Nelson.

So far this year, 20 Chicago public school children have been killed, and at least 135 have been shot.

Sheena Hall of Richmond, Indiana finds it all disturbing.

"Extremely disturbing that this many children are dying and its not getting the attention that it needs to get," the Howard student said.

On Monday night the Howard students arrived at St. Sabina’s Catholic Church to hear from family members first hand what the violence in Chicago has wrought.

"My son Mathew was 16 years old. He was my only child," said Maria Ramirez. "He was shot in February ’06. Just walking home."

"It was very, very hard to hear those types of stories," said Hall, a senior who hopes to become a diplomat.

"Who here has experienced gun violence?" asked Annette Holt. When hands were raised, Holt replied, "A lot. More than I would have thought."

Holt spoke of what the loss of a child means. Her son, Blair, was shot and killed in May of 2007. The proposed federal legislation is named in his honor.

It would require a driver’s license, social security number and fingerprints in order to purchase a handgun.

"Hearing their stories it brought every emotion that I felt at that time when I got the phone call saying my brother got shot," said Mesha Nelson.

The downtown rally ended with a demonstration to illustrate the deadly, physical cost of gun violence, put on by a group of students who decided spring break is more than beaches and warm weather.

Or as Andrew Whatley of Dallas Texas put it:

"This is where I need to be, I always feel if you have the ability, you have the responsibility." 

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