As Cameron Kasky was living through the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, what scared him most wasn’t the confusion or the fear of losing his life.
“The most terrifying feeling was that I knew what was happening,” Kasky said.
“It was a mass school shooting. We had seen these,” he said. “People in my generation, we had grown up on them.”
Kasky was among ten student activists who spoke at a town hall about gun violence and activism in Kansas City, Kansas, on Monday night. More than 1,000 people attended the event organized by March for Our Lives, an organization founded by Parkland shooting survivors.
Among the attendees were Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James and five democratic candidates running for U.S. representative in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, was not in attendance, although he was mentioned several times throughout the night.
“Kevin Yoder has received thousands of dollars from the NRA so we should vote him out,” one panelist said to loud applause.
The event was planned by March for Lives, Kansas City. April Ma, a volunteer with the organization, said they forgot to reach out to Yoder, calling it an oversight. However, she said, March for Our Lives, Kansas City had invited Yoder to previous events, including a May town hall which he did not attend.
In a statement to KCUR on Monday afternoon, Yoder said he supports reinforcing school safety, allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence and strengthening background checks.
“To continue the ongoing discussion, I’ve also put together a community task force to share ideas and perspectives from across the political spectrum to improve the safety of all our children,” Yoder said. “Students have an important voice in this discussion and I hope they continue to be involved in our political process.”
Niki Joshi, a student at Blue Valley High School, said she remembers being in sixth grade and watching President Barack Obama deliver remarks after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Joshi also watched the survivors of the Parkland school shooting speak out on TV.
“My dad was telling me, ‘All of these students are doing things. Why don’t you and your friends do something, too?’” Joshi said.
Joshi helped organize a school walkout to protest gun violence. She credits her activism to the survivors of Parkland.
Jack Reeves, a fellow organizer of the Blue Valley High School walkout, said he was also inspired by the Parkland students’ grassroots efforts.
Reeves said gun violence was something he was concerned about after Reat Underwood was killed in the Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting in 2014. Reeves said he was in the same Boy Scout troop as Underwood.
“Losing someone that you personally know is unlike any other feeling, because it’s not like it’s some issue that you are isolated from that’s happening on the other side of the country,” Reeves said. “It’s something that is happening in your community that you have a direct relationship with.”
Creating a dialogue
Throughout the evening, panelists stressed the importance of starting a conversation about how to prevent gun violence. They stressed that they were not trying to take away people's guns, but were instead advocating for common-sense policy changes.
Ma said she hopes this dialogue spurs action in November. She’ll be too young to vote, but said she’s encouraging others to register.
March for Our Lives plans town halls in 50 cities this summer, with a goal of registering voters and continuing the dialogue.
“If the conversation about gun violence in this country does not leave this room — if it stays in here tonight, you go home and in the near future you don’t talk about it — we have failed you and you have failed us,” Kasky said.
Correction: This story has been updated. Attendance at the event was more than 1,000, not the 500 originally reported.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.