Hundreds of Santa Maria youth joined the rest of the nation Saturday to demand action on gun control and school safety.
The "March for Our Lives" rallies were spearheaded by survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
At 2:30 p.m., over 120 people marched in front of Santa Maria High School's Ethel Pope Auditorium and took over the corners at South Broadway and Morrison Avenue, chanting "Enough is enough!" "The people united will never be divided!" "Vote them out!" and "Hey, hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?"
Joana Barrera, community organizer for Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), said the organization has been talking to students since the Parkland shooting and the national walkout March 14, and hoped that it'll spark more conversations about gun control in the near future.
"Santa Maria already faces high crime and youth violence stemming from gang activity," Barrera said. "We want students to be listened to, and today's a great way to help students get involved. Enough is enough."
Just two days after the Parkland shooting, tensions ran high for Santa Maria High students when two threatening Snapchat photos circulated on social media.
"That's another concerning rhetoric," Barrera said. "It's not OK to perceive guns as a game. This isn't funny.
Organizers also called for city leaders to create a new policy establishing stronger buffer zones between gun stores and schools, similar to the one passed in Alameda County. The ordinance, which prohibits gun stores within 500 feet of schools, liquor stores and residential neighborhoods, has been challenged in federal court.
"If you look all around Santa Maria High School, there are a few gun shops that make a triangle perimeter around the outskirts of the campus," Barrera noted. "There's also a gun shop just about a mile or so away from Righetti High School."
Barrera hoped Santa Maria officials will prohibit new gun shops from being built near schools and for the distance between existing gun shops and schools to be farther away.
"I just find it concerning how close these gun shops are to schools. It's about the measure of security for students being threatened."
Barrera added, the idea is not to infringe on Second Amendment rights or ban firearms outright, but rather to protect student safety in schools, start conversations on strengthening background checks, support mental health and to mitigate accessibility to guns.
There's always going to backlash from other groups whose viewpoints may not align with hers, or CAUSE, she said, but the main goal at the end of the day is "student safety, first and foremost."
"Students themselves from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are the ones who organized the national walkout, and began a movement, including 'March for Our Lives,'" she added. "It's because students are the ones in school every day, facing this threat and shouldn't be afraid to go to school. You're supposed to feel safe."
Pam Gates and Clifford Solomon, of Santa Maria, were proud of today's generation for standing up and speaking out about the changes they wanted to see.
"The older generation is just sort of sticking in the mud, and it's the kids in Florida that really got things going," Solomon said.
The couple also participated in Lompoc's "March for Our Lives" rally, and drove back to join Santa Maria's march.
Solomon, a former teacher, thinks the discussions about arming instructors is a huge concern.
"To suggest something like that is just tragic and wrong," he said. "Teachers have enough problems to deal with."
"Thankfully, the kids have a lot more guts than we do," Gates said. "This is the first demonstration of this kind in Santa Maria that I'm aware of, and I think it's great to come home and see this."
The rally also had a table with voter registration forms, which Barrera, of CAUSE, said organizers brought to encourage teens who had just turned 18 or were close to voting age to register.
Monserrat Nolasco, who recently celebrated her 18th birthday, registered to vote at the encouragement of her friends.
"It's time for me to finally register, now that I can," she said. "I am going to register so I can start voting for the policies that matter to me, and start implementing changes."
The pair were also at the #Lompoc #marchforourlives just earlier today. Cliff, a former teacher, also contends that arming and training teachers to use firearms is a ridiculous idea, as they have enough to worry about. @lompocrecord @santamariatimes pic.twitter.com/rvS3wykuo1— Gina Kim (@gina_k210) March 24, 2018
Monse Nolasco 18, Just registered to vote for the first time right here at the #santamaria #marchforourlives rally in front of Santa Maria High School. She said she now feels the power to help implement policies that she wants to see change. pic.twitter.com/3NkhKrLt8G— Gina Kim (@gina_k210) March 24, 2018