Hundreds march in Newton against gun violence

Local protest mirrors national demonstration

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  • Approximately 500 people swarmed Newton Green on March 24 to protest gun violence Photos by Meghan Byers

  • For those who may not know 'Basta' is italian for 'Enough'

  • Robin Schwarz makes her point

  • Ruth Walker of Middletown, NJ

  • Another sign that speaks for itself

  • on the clothesline banner are the names of the 17 who died in Parkland

By Meghan Byers

— An estimated 500 people from throughout Sussex County and beyond flooded the Newton Green on Saturday, March 24, in coordination with the national gun violence protest organized by student survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students led the way in Newton as well; the protest was organized by Zoe Heath, 18, a senior at Vernon High School, with additional support from groups such as the Sussex County chapters of the Brady Campaign and the National Organization for Women (Sussex County NOW).

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a quality education without having to live in fear for their lives while doing so, and while there are no one-step perfect solutions to any form of violence, there are certainly many incremental improvements within reach in terms of gun control specifically,” Sussex County NOW said in a statement before the march.

Several Sussex County students stepped up to the microphone on Saturday to share their experiences and call for action against gun violence.

“This not a political issue,” said Sparta High School student Anna Tartaglia. “It is not a liberal idea to keep guns away from our schools. [...] Your thoughts and prayers are not going to stop this from happening over and over again like it has for the past twenty years.”

Sophia Levin, a fifth grade student from Hardyston Middle School, spoke about the fear she and fellow students felt during unscheduled lockdown drills.

“I heard some kids crying,” she said. “I was truly terrified.”

Newton High School student Sydney Reynolds, 17, emphasized the importance of mental health care and awareness in her speech.

“It is time to bring mental illness to the forefront of this national discussion,” said Reynolds. “...We need to erase the stigma of mental illness. Most importantly, we must encourage other students to use their voices and show children that their words can be more powerful than guns. Soon, we will silence the sound of bullets with our cries for change.”

Marchers of all ages attended the demonstration, carrying signs with messages like “ARs R 4 soldiers, not you” and “Books not guns.”

Ruth Walker, of Middletown, NJ, carried a hand-made sign reading “GRANDPARENTS FOR GUN CONTROL.”

“I’ve been yelling about gun control for many years,” said Walker, who has grandchildren in New Jersey schools.

Howard Whidden, former president of the Vernon school board and veteran of the Marine Corps, attended the protest as an advocate for restrictions on assault weapons.

“I support the second amendment,” said Whidden, but added that he felt that civilians having military-style assault weapons was “ridiculous.”

“Their only purpose is to kill large numbers of people,” he said.

Amy Sandlin, an Air Force veteran from Warren County, addressed the crowd along with representatives from groups such as the Brady Campaign and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“Why should I be afraid sending my kids to school?” Sandlin asked. “As a mom, I want my kids safe at school. As a vet, I want my people safe in my country.”

Students, parents, grandparents, and teachers alike marched along the sidewalk around the Newton Green, chanting and raising homemade and printed signs toward the passing cars.

Sparta High School student Josiah Sutton, 16, said that he'd attended the march to support “more limitation” on guns, adding that he felt military-style weapons like the AR-15 were not appropriate for self-defense.

“I’m here to stand for people who can’t stand anymore,” said fellow Sparta student Sophia Masterson, 17. “People who lost their lives to gun violence.”

“I give a lot of credit to the students who decided to mobilize,” said marcher Robin Schwartz, who had her own experience with gun violence as a teenager in Bergen County. “I’m optimistic for the first time, thanks to the students.”

Both adult and student speakers at the march emphasized the importance of voting, and a voter registration table was available to attendees.

“Attending this rally is important,” said Sparta Middle School student Shannon Huhn, “but you must vote to protect us.”

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