Graduates of the Florida high school where a mass shooting erupted urged Gov. Nathan Deal to reverse a decision that blocked organizers of a protest against gun violence from using a plaza on statehouse grounds.
The group of 166 alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who live in Georgia penned an open letter to Deal after he was slapped with a federal lawsuit targeting a policy that requires one of Georgia’s seven constitutional officers to approve weekend or after-hours events at Liberty Plaza.
“Governor Deal, do you really want to waste taxpayer money fighting a lawsuit for a march that supports reducing gun violence in schools?” read the letter. “Shouldn’t the issue of mitigating risk of classroom shootings be one that Georgia is proud to not just support, but to lead on?”
Thousands of people are expected to rally in downtown Atlanta on March 24 for the “March for Our Lives” event, one of dozens scheduled across the nation spearheaded by students who survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas.
The lawsuit claims the policy violates free speech rights, and Deal’s office later offered to sponsor the event if organizers could pay for security costs. The governor also directed the state Building Authority to find a way to accommodate the rally.
Deal’s top aide, Chris Riley, said Tuesday that state schools Superintendent Richard Woods - another constitutional officer - submitted a letter approving the rally "as long as associated costs are met.”
The alumni group said it counts Democrats and Republicans from across the state among its members, and that it was “embarrassing” to read the protest group had been denied a permit.
“Governor Deal, the issue of gun violence is without a doubt complicated. But, fortunately for you, the issue of providing a march permit is not,” read the letter.
“We know won’t solve the problem simply by marching on March 24, but it is our right to be heard, just like it’s your right to bear arms. This issue is too important and too mainstream to not let those concerned with our students’ safety be heard.”
Read the entire letter below:
The 166 alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who now reside (and vote) in Georgia strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to deny permits for the March for Our Lives Rally scheduled for March 24.
Less than a month ago, our alma mater, a premier public school located within Florida’s safest city, was rocked by a cowardly act of school violence that will take the community decades to recover from. Rest (un)assured, that if a massacre of this magnitude happened at Stoneman Douglas in Parkland FL, then it can, and ultimately will, happen at a school in Georgia.
As seen in the media, Stoneman Douglas alumni have turned our sadness, anger and anguish into persistent action - raising money, writing letters, offering support services, lobbying government and more. Here in Georgia, we had 45 alumni come to Chastain Park for an impromptu memorial. Most of us had never met or even spoken before. We were simply connected through tragedy as Eagles.
From Alpharetta and Newnan to Bethlehem, Sugar Hill and Atlanta, Stoneman Douglas alumni from all over Georgia have mobilized to support the victims’ families, the survivors, and our hometown. But we have also come together to do whatever it takes to ensure that no persons in Georgia, our adopted home state, have to read stories about and see pictures of their neighbor’s murdered children on the floor of a social studies classroom. Such images will haunt all Eagles forever.
Make no mistake, our newfound activism is not part of a liberal agenda for gun control. We’re a diverse group. We’re Republicans who voted for you and Democrats who voted against you. We are white, black and Hispanic. We are Catholic, Christian and Jewish. Some of us own guns, and some of us want all guns banned. Some of us are NRA members, and some of us think the NRA represents all that’s wrong with America. Some of us believe mental illness is the primary driver of school violence, while others argue that it’s all about the guns or lax security. Despite our differences, we have united to reduce the unprecedented risk to our kids in their classrooms.
The March for Our Lives rally, which is protected by our First Amendment right, is an important event in our nation’s discussion and healing process. While other cities and states (red and blue) are actively encouraging participation in local marches, Georgia is for some reason resisting. In fact, Georgia is the only location - to absolutely nobody’s surprise - engaging in such shenanigans. Equally typical and embarrassing to say the least.
Exactly why the march’s permits were denied remains a mystery. Was there a financial concern? If so, let’s use some of the money saved from revoking Delta’s tax incentives to pay for the nominal one-time fee. Was it political? If yes, then there is an egregious abuse of power underway that can only be explained as trying to silence those of differing opinion and objectives. Or perhaps it’s your way of thanking the NRA for holding their convention in Atlanta last year?
Whatever the reason(s) may be, we, along with many others, are prepared to fight this immoral and unconstitutional decision in the courts. Governor Deal, do you really want to waste taxpayer money fighting a lawsuit for a march that supports reducing gun violence in schools? Shouldn’t the issue of mitigating risk of classroom shootings be one that Georgia is proud to not just support, but to lead on?
Danielle Gilbert, a 16-year old Stoneman Douglas student whose life changed forever on February 14, recently told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper:
“Once I stopped hearing shots, I stood up to see why those students were making so much noise and what I saw at that moment will haunt me for the rest of my life. I saw my classmates, my friends, people I knew so well, laying on the floor, covered in blood completely lifeless.”
No child in Georgia should ever have a similar experience. No child in Georgia should ever have to play dead where they normally play basketball. No parent in Georgia should ever have to get a text from their child hiding in a school close during gunfire. No teacher in Georgia should have to lose their life protecting their students. And no Governor should have to live with the burden of having done nothing when such a horrific event happens on his watch.
Governor Deal, the issue of gun violence is without a doubt complicated. But, fortunately for you, the issue of providing a march permit is not.
The Stoneman Douglas alumni of Georgia implore you to reverse your decision and issue a permit to the March for Our Lives organizers. We know won’t solve the problem simply by marching on March 24, but it is our right to be heard, just like it’s your right to bear arms. This issue is too important and too mainstream to not let those concerned with our students’ safety be heard.
Evan Goldberg on behalf of the Stoneman Douglas Alumni of Georgia
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