More than 500,000 teens and adults are expected to rally in Washington, DC, this weekend at the March for Our Lives, a national protest against gun violence.
A Pensacola woman is among the multitudes planning to attend.
Danielle Laatsch is a military spouse, who is well-traveled and previously lived and worked in the Washington D. C. area.
“When the march hit the news that there was going to be one, I was starting to think about it, how I would love to be there,” said Laatsch of her decision to return to the nation’s capital on Saturday for the March For Our Lives.
She recalled how much energy there is at the marches, especially in D.C., and she thought the gun control rally would be a great experience for her 12-year-old daughter.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff happening right now, but these marches and the protests that can happen there are really strong and vibrant of showing this is what’s good about America,” Laatsch said, noting the value of such demonstrations in allowing the people to join with others to put forth their ideas and to be heard.
The March for Our Lives was organized by survivors of the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Tragically, seventeen people, including 14 students, were killed in the attack.
As a parent of two young children, her daughter as well as a son who is in the fourth grade, Laatsch was affected by the shooting. Also, she has a view from the inside, as a volunteer in the library at N.B. Cook Elementary School.
“So, if a drill or anything else happens while we’re there, okay, where in the library can we go,” Laatsch said of the effort to keep kids safe at school.
For example, she says notes the challenge of shepherding an entire kindergarten class from story time into a safe place in a timely manner.
“And, just having to go through all these planning programs, and helping kids who are scared and figuring out what to do with that; it takes up a lot of time and energy and is very emotional when you’re looking a class full of kindergarteners.”
In the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Laatsch has a heightened awareness of school safety and gun control, especially in relation to assault rifles. She wants action, even though she’s aware complete safety cannot be guaranteed.
“We’re never going to make any school absolutely perfectly safe; any school, church, anyplace. It’s impossible,” proclaimed Laatsch as she pointed out that there’s always going to be a way for somebody to get in.
But, she says she doesn’t want people to feel like they’re going in and out of a jail to get into a school.
“I want to solve the problem at the source. We need health care. We need to get rid of these guns. You know, yes, sure people can kill people with knives, but not thirty at a time.”
In the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, suspect Nikolas Cruz was armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines.
Since, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that raised the minimum age for buying rifles in Florida to 21, banned bump stocks, and established waiting periods and background checks.
The action was propelled by students from the school, who immediately began campaigning for gun control legislation and also founded the advocacy group Never Again MSD.
With these young student activists leading the way and gaining momentum, Laatsch is hopeful.
“I think it’s going to be awfully difficult for congress to ignore the largest protest of any kind, ever,” she said of the estimate of over 500,000 expected at the march on Saturday.
“There are millions of people all around the world who are saying, ‘we cannot have children being slaughtered in their schools.’ And, that just can’t be ignored. Changes need to be made and we can be a part of that, the energy and the environment, when that idea finally hits some people.”
While Laatsch and her daughter will be in Washington, D.C., her husband and son will be participating here at home. Locally, March For Our Lives rallies will be held this Saturday morning at Gulf Breeze High School, Martin Luther King Plaza in Pensacola, and Liza Jackson Park in Fort Walton Beach, beginning at 10:00 a.m..