Joey Waldinger and Sawyer Loftus

Gun advocates had just started their rally in support of the right to bear arms when a group of protesters in the back stood up, turned their backs on the crowd and walked out.

Turning Point USA and the Young Americans for Liberty, conservative youth groups on campus, held a joint rally March 8 in the Ira Allen Chapel.

The rally came less than a month after Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, Florida.

Standing silently and holding candles in the falling snow before their walk out, a group of students protested the discussion.

Before opening the floor to a question-and-answer session, high-profile gun advocates like State Rep. Patrick Brennan and William Moor, Firearms Policy Advisor to for the Vermont Tradition Coalition, spoke to the importance of upholding the Second Amendment, arguing there are better ways to reduce gun violence than by restricting access to weapons.

“Other than a few misguided people misusing those rights, I think our gun rights are just where they should be,” Brennan said.   

Junior Alec Collins, a protest organizer, rejects this belief.  

“Their viewpoint kills people,” Collins said.

Always contentious, the debate over gun rights has recently shifted in Vermont and across the nation.  

On the campaign trail, Vermont Governor Phil Scott promised not to introduce any gun control measures, but he recently supported a bill that would allow police to take weapons from people deemed dangerous, according to a Feb. 25 Burlington Free Press article.

A nationwide youth-led political movement has blossomed after high school students from Parkland, Florida, took their anger and trauma to the statehouse, prompting students across the country to follow suit.

“Change on the national level is going to take a big push. So we’re just really happy to do our small part tonight,” Collins said.

Others, like Eddie Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, a non-partisan pro-gun advocacy organization, were angered by this change in the political landscape, and especially by Scott’s surprise endorsement of the bill.  

“When he came out with those statements he didn’t contact us, and he could have contacted us first. I find that offensive for a lack of better word,” Cutler said.

Rather than push a political agenda, protesters were motivated to honor the lives lost from gun violence and ensure that rally organizers addressed the opposition, said junior Scarlett Moore, a leader of the UVM chapter of the International Socialist Organization and a protest organizer.   

First-year Jace Laquerre, chief organizer of the rally, was glad to see the protesters and wished that they engaged in the conversation, he said.    

“For those of you that are here that disagree with our speakers, thank you for coming …We do want to hear from you and want you to ask tough questions,” Laquerre said.

None of the protesters spoke at the rally, and Moore said that there is no movement on campus aimed at fighting loose gun regulations.

“Because of all the gun violence toward people of color, at this moment in time it is more important to focus specifically on racial justice,” said first-year Eden Harari, secretary of the Intersectional Feminist Collective.

Despite the lack of political action, Harari considers gun violence on campus a legitimate threat.  

“After every single shooting I’m worried,” she said.