Maui’s youth takes aim at gun violence

March for Our Lives draws around 1,000 participants to UH-MC’s Great Lawn

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Maui County Council Member Kelly King join students at the front of Saturday’s march along Kaahumanu Avenue in Kahului. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui high school students passionately demanded lawmakers and adults stop making excuses about gun violence and never forget those who have been killed over the years as part of a nationwide march Saturday at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Around 1,000 people rallied together on the college’s Great Lawn for a handful of speeches by students and others before marching up and down West Kaahumanu Avenue for the March for Our Lives. More than 800 marches, including one with hundreds of thousands of protesters in Washington D.C., took place and were sparked by last month’s Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 dead.

“No child should have to worry about being shot,” King Kekaulike freshman Rachel Zisk said to the Maui crowd. “No parent should have to bury their child. Yet, if you are my age, this is so normal we have become numb. Mass shootings have occurred our entire lives . . . We’ve become numb watching our parents discuss these mass shootings and then move on. We’ve seen dead children become mere statistics. These childhood victims cannot speak for themselves. It is up to you and I.

“And they want you to know: ‘Please do not forget us.’ “

Zisk, an organizer for the march led by high school students, said her cousin is a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Her cousin, Leah Ronkin, hid in a closet in the drama building and could hear the gunman shooting her classmates next door.

King Kekaulike High School freshman Rachel Zisk delivers a powerful speech at University of Hawaii Maui College before Saturday’s march. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Nikolas Cruz , 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and is being held without bond.

“I am so proud of everyone for being here today, but I’m so heartbroken that it took so many tragedies, so many lives lost to say enough is enough and never again,” Zisk said to the crowd. “It is time to come together and demand change.”

Haleakala Waldorf senior Gita Tucker told the crowd that she believes young people for the first time have a voice in the debate over gun laws. She said the nation needs to “take a hard look at the past and question why nobody has done anything to stop” gun violence.

“We are facing a major problem in the U.S. right now,” Tucker said. “It has allowed 25 active, fatal school shootings since Columbine. What is this problem? Inaction.”

As a result of the most recent school shooting, students have made more progress and brought more awareness to gun violence than anyone has in the past 20 years, Tucker said. She repeated that there are no more excuses for adults and lawmakers.

Teresa Shook

“We are going to have to be the change we want,” she said.

One of Saturday’s adult speakers was Women’s March founder and Hana resident Teresa Shook. She became an overnight celebrity after sparking the worldwide march attended by millions after President Donald Trump was elected.

Several Maui County Council members and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also were in attendance.

“I’m so proud of the grass-roots efforts that have grown from that and now here these students are taking it up. It’s awesome,” Shook told the crowd.

Shook lauded Hawaii’s “common sense gun laws” and said the state can be a model for the rest of the world. She emphasized that the issue is a “solvable problem.”

A sign carrier bears a sobering scorecard of mass shootings in the United States. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I don’t want to take away anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” she said. “My father was a hunter. His family hunted and fished to survive. But as an orderly society we balance the constitutional right of protecting lives.”

Shook encouraged the crowd to vote for political candidates in the next election who support common sense gun laws. Conversely, she told the crowd to vote against lawmakers who accept money from the National Rifle Association or oppose stricter gun laws.

Voter registration tents were set up at the college and Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Volunteers said at least 100 people had registered at the two booths by 4 p.m.

Marchers held signs as they walked along the street with phrases such as “Policy & Change, Not Thoughts and Prayers,” “Listen To The Kids” and “Protect Kids Not Guns.”

Many of Saturday’s marchers were on vacation from other states and researched when Maui’s march one would take place. One family from Seattle brought seven people to the march.

“I think it’s important that we raise more awareness about this,” said Washington-native Liam Amador Emmons, whose family also participated in the Women’s March on Maui. “My grandma is really the one who inspired me to come because she’s always been very passionate about these marches. I agree that it’s time to start making changes.”

Many high school students who joined the march believed they needed their voices to be heard. Some hoped that gun laws will be re-evaluated in light of the nationwide movement.

“I really care about gun control, and it just needs to be way more regulated,” King Kekaulike freshman Electra Richard said. “People can’t be afraid to go to school. School shootings can’t become a normal occurrence like it is today.”

A concert featuring artists Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Willie K, Landon McNamara, Lily Meola and others was planned to take place after the march at the MACC. About 5,500 people were expected to attend the Concert for Our Lives.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono addressed the concert-goers, saying “this is a movement that will inspire a generation.”

“Activists from across the country and around the world came together today to demand sensible gun legislation that will close background check loopholes, eliminate bump stocks and prevent anyone from owning assault weapons,” she said. “If these bills pass, it will be because of you and the movement we are all joining. I stand with you because we are all in this together.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at