By Adam Wagner | StarNews Online

WILMINGTON — The March for Our Lives teens are demanding answers to their questions about halting gun violence, and they asked dozens of them on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Wilmington, a standing-room only crowd of about 170 people watched Dr. Kyle Horton field questions, first from a group of student organizers and then from audience members. Horton, a Democrat, is running in a primary to face off this fall against Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C. 7, who was invited to the event, but declined to attend.

Horton decried many of the technical solutions that have been advanced to solve the nation’s school shooting problem in the wake of the Parkland massacre — think clear backpacks — while outlining an approach that includes an assault weapons ban and repealing legislation that makes it politically difficult for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. State and local legislators, meanwhile, discussed operating in the current political environment and seeking solutions where they can.

Many questions addressed how, if elected, Horton would work to burst through partisan gridlock to ensure that gun legislation is passed.

To enact change, Butler continued, those in the March for Our Lives movement must continue to show up and prepare themselves to be “unyielding” on the topic. Last month, local March for Our Lives organizers held a rally in Downtown Wilmington at which more than 2,000 people supported change to gun laws.

At the beginning of Saturday’s event, Taylor Dearing, a Hoggard senior, spoke about how his friend Raymond Kain was shot and killed last year by another friend, Tyler Yee, who has been charged in Kain’s murder.

“These are people’s lives at stake,” Dearing said, before lighting a candle in memory of Kain and other victims of gun violence.

Dearing sat in the front row of chairs after the event closed as he was asked what the March for Our Lives movement means to him, considering his own history.

“I watched all of these families get torn apart really quickly,” Dearing said, “and then the days kept moving. I’m sad it took something like Parkland to have these conversations.”

One area where change could be coming soon is New Hanover County. Rob Zapple, a New Hanover County commissioner, promised the audience that securing more therapists for the county’s students is one of his top priorities in the upcoming budget deliberations.

The county, Zapple said, has 19 therapists spread across its 44 schools and that he’d like to secure a full-time therapist for each of the schools — or at the very least access to one. Ed Higgins, the chairman of the New Hanover County School Board, was in attendance to hear Zapple’s remarks.

“It’s clear that there’s support for it, it’s the right thing and I think it’s necessary,” Zapple said.

While it is not clear how much the proposal would cost, Zapple, who is running for re-election this fall, said he is confident it will be raised during budget conversations.

Near the end of the questions, Desiree Joseph, a 79-year-old from Bolivia, took the microphone.

“If you want to know where future is tomorrow, you have to look at the now. And we want to know, I want to know — I have no children, and I want to know why I have this strong urge to stand up for you,” Joseph said, staring at the student questioners.

“I want to know what you want,” she continued. “You already answered my prayers, you’re here. I don’t like how you got here, but you’re here and you’re being verbal, you’re being articulate and you’re representing your group very well.”

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