Mayor Pam Hemminger supports UNC students against gun violence.

Mayor Pam Hemminger supports UNC students against gun violence.

A large crowd of students, faculty and community members gathered on the steps in front of South Building on the UNC campus Thursday protesting gun violence.

The rally comes after high school students walked out of class earlier this month and massive marches and rallies were held across the country on Saturday in order to protest gun violence and call for gun control legislation. The protests have been consistent after 17 people were killed at a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.

Josh Romero is a first-year student at UNC who was one of the main organizers of Thursday’s rally.

“The fact that someone can walk right into the halls of any of our schools across the nation with a weapon of war that fires over 400 bullets per minute, that can decimate us all, is unacceptable,” Romero said. “Let us remind you that we are here for an education, not target practice.”

Romero told the crowd that the shooting in Parkland, close to his childhood home, was the fault of inaction by lawmakers after previous mass shootings.

“Seventeen people 20 minutes away from my home in Florida are dead,” Romero said. “Their lives were all stripped away in an instant because of the inaction since Pulse nightclub, since Mother Emanuel, since Sandy Hook, since Aurora, since Virginia Tech, since Columbine.”

The protesters were calling for some specific movement from Congress, including universal background checks, raising the age requirement to purchase a gun, banning bump stocks – which allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic automatic firearms – restricting high-capacity magazines and banning assault-style firearms.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger was one of the elected officials who spoke at Thursday’s rally. She thanked the students for their efforts rallying against gun violence.

“There are politicians who are out there who care, who have the same values you are expressing here, and I want you to know that they are out there fighting the good fight,” Hemminger said. “Our representatives to the state legislature from this community understand these values, and they fight hard for them; they’re going to need your support.

“So, on behalf of the [Chapel Hill] Town Council and the National Mayors Organization, we applaud you; we support you; we are here with you.”

Sarah Chadwick survived the shooting in Parkland and has been one of the student activists leading efforts across the country over the last six weeks.

“We have had to witness mass shooting after mass shooting,” she told the crowd at UNC on Thursday. “It happened to me. It could happen to you, unless the politicians we elected do something about it.

“We the students are begging for our safety. We are tired of staring down the barrel of a gun while trying to learn in a classroom. Our voices deserve to be heard, and they will be heard.”

Other students said they would be organizing town halls and inviting North Carolina’s United States Senators Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to account for their campaign’s acceptance of funding from the NRA.