Students march in the rain carrying a banner demanding action on gun control.
The group of roughly 200 students marched through downtown Portland before converging outside of Maine Sen. Susan Collins' Portland office, where they demanded the Republican senator take action to ban assault-style weapons. Credit: Patty Wight / Maine Public

Students fed up with gun violence walked out of several Portland-area schools on Friday. The group of roughly 200 students marched through downtown Portland before converging in front of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office to demand she take action to ban assault-style weapons.

The students, mostly from Cape Elizabeth and South Portland high schools, took over an entire lane of Congress Street as they marched through downtown Portland. Cars honked in support and adults stepped out of businesses to give fist pumps until the students reached their destination outside. First, they read the names of the 19 students and two teachers who were killed in last month’s school shooting in Texas.

Then Grace Taylor, a junior at Cape Elizabeth High School, reminded her peers that there have been more than 200 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year.

“How many more mass shootings will the United States tolerate? At what number will we decide as a country to pass laws on gun control? We have had enough. It is easier for an 18-year-old to obtain a gun in this country than a driver’s license,” Taylor said.

The latest school shooting has stoked fears among students, who said the threat of gun violence is constantly on their minds, including 12-year-old Cape Elizabeth Middle School student Helena Robbins.

“Learning is one of my favorite things and it makes me not want to go to school anymore,” Robbins said.

Fear and frustration over inaction on gun safety prompted Cape Elizabeth junior Stella Crawford to organize the rally and deliver a letter to Collins demanding action to ban assault-style weapons. Before delivering it, Crawford read the letter out loud.

“We want to learn and live without fear. We demand that you advocate for the children of your state, rather than your donors and your party. Sincerely, concerned students of your state,” Crawford said to a crowd at the rally.

Students continued to cheer for Crawford and several other students as they went inside Collins’ office, where a staff member agreed to meet with them privately. Afterward, Crawford said she appreciated the meeting but felt discouraged.

“We talked a lot about compromise. And we’re sick of the compromise talk. A kid should not die in his or her school building. It’s not a compromise. It’s not red or blue. It’s human,” she said.

Cape Elizabeth junior Eben Harrison, who was also in the meeting, said students want meaningful change, and adults are failing them.

“She said she was working on it in 2013, she was working on it in 2018. But now it’s 2022 and we’re still struggling with this problem. So obviously what she’s doing isn’t solving or creating any solutions for us, which is what we’re looking for,” Harrison said.

A spokesperson for Collins said the senator has been meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to find consensus on gun safety legislation, and they’re making rapid progress on a common-sense package.

Meanwhile, the students at the rally said they’ll continue to demand a ban on assault weapons and other gun safety laws until Congress takes action.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.