Students opposing gun violence barred entry to Ga. Capitol galleries

High school students lobbying against gun violence were denied entrance Thursday to the House and Senate public galleries on the final day of the 2018 General Assembly session.

The students, at the Capitol for a Georgia Alliance for Social Justice lobby day, wore “March for Our Lives” and “We Can End Gun Violence” T-shirts and were barred from entering either gallery — state doorkeepers said — because their shirts displayed political messages.

The students also wore buttons opposing Senate Bill 363, which would limit and restrict weekend voting, and Senate Bill 452, which would require police to help with immigration enforcement in Georgia.

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Chip Stewart, an assistant doorkeeper at the Capitol, said students were permitted to wear buttons and stickers, but they could not carry signs or wear T-shirts that took sides on an issue.

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Christina Abdullah, 15, who attends The New School in Atlanta, said she was the first to approach the doorkeepers. She took off her sticker, she said, to show them she “meant no harm.” But she said she was barred from entering the gallery, and she eventually left the fourth floor of the Capitol with the rest of the students.

“I felt very discouraged. This was my first time lobbying, and I thought it would be an educating experience,” Abdullah said. “While I certainly did learn something, it isn’t anything I liked to hear.”

Kenyette Tish Barnes, the legislative and policy director for the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, said the students didn’t intend to demonstrate, protest or march.

“The purpose was to bring their message to the legislators, to bring their message to their statehouse,” Barnes said.

“It’s one thing to march, it’s one thing to do a big protest, but it’s another thing to come face to face with your lawmakers and demand that they make policies and vote for policies that are going to impact your lives,” she said.

On Saturday, about 30,000 rallied in a March for Our Lives event in Atlanta, and hundreds of thousands more attended other marches across the country.

The marches were organized by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz is charged with killing 17 people and injuring more on Feb. 14.

Abdullah said the marches are just a first step.

“It’s important that we come and represent, and it’s important for them to know that we are here and we are going to make a change,” she said. “And power comes by numbers. Having more of us come out will just show them that we are really serious, and I don’t think they’re really taking us seriously.”

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