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Youth take the lead on guns at Philly March for Our Lives

As many as 20,000 people could be in Old City Saturday demanding action on mass shootings.
Andrew Binder, an organizer of March for Our Lives Philly and senior at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, speaks at a past anti-gun violence rally. (Courtesy of Andrew Binder)

For today's youth, and for most people who were students in America in the last three decades, the threat of a mass shooting inside a school has always been very real.

"For the time that I've been in high school, gun violence has been something always in the back of everyone's mind. We always do lockdown drills where the teacher tells everyone to go to the corner of the classroom," said Andrew Binder, 18, a senior at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. "Someone comes along to make sure the door is locked and bangs on the door, to make sure they can't get in. Ever since coming back to school the day after Sandy Hook in seventh grade, it has just really stuck with me."

But since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the youth of Parkland, Florida, who survived have emerged as some of the most compelling voices calling for gun reform in the United States.

As they hold the March for Our Lives rally on March 24 in Washington D.C., youth and students around the country and in the Philadelphia area are holding events of their own in support.

The Philly March for Our Lives is set to begin at 5th and Market streets at 10 a.m. and will head to Lombard Circle. Organizers said as many as 20,000 or more are expected at the rally, which will also be attended by Mayor Jim Kenney, Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, among other notable activists and organizers.

Binder said he was inspired by the Parkland youth to participate and hopes to raise fellow student voices as well. He's also chairman of the High School Democrats of Philadelphia. As an Eagle scout with shotgun and rifle shooting merit badges, he said he supports the right to own guns, but he thinks it's undeniable that some laws or regulations need to be changed to protect people from mass shootings.

Another organizer, Ethan Block, 16, a student at Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey, said the Parkland shooting was a turning point from feelings of powerlessness after past shootings.

"I just couldn't really believe what I was seeing, even from a young age, I knew what I was seeing was wrong, that the fact our representatives weren't taking action was wrong," Block said. "The Parkland kids said, 'This isn't just another school shooting. We're going to make our voices heard and advocate for change.' That was really inspiring to me."

Block said his area has a large hunting community and he respects the right to own guns, but he believes in stronger background checks, mental health checks and banning certain powerful weapons.

"Gun culture is such a huge part of what makes America America — it's really difficult," he said. "For me, it's not about whether people want guns to be able to have guns everywhere, or want guns completely outlawed. This first and foremost is about safety for students in schools, because we can all agree nothing is being done to combat these school shootings."

The Philly March for Our Lives is set to begin at Fifth and Market streets at 10 a.m. on March 24 and will head to Lombard Circle. Visit Facebook.com/marchforourlivesphilly to learn more.