Hundreds of Billings high school students called for action to address gun violence in schools in a series of carefully coordinated walkouts Wednesday morning.
At Senior High, students flowed out of the building just before 10 a.m., armed with signs bearing phrases like "thoughts and prayers are not enough," "fear has no place here," and "enough is enough."
The 17-minute walkouts were part of a national effort in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a teenage gunman killed 17 people in February.
"We're making history today. We're part of it," Senior High senior Ana Strong-Garcia told students, speaking into a megaphone.
Students chanted slogans like "this is what democracy looks like," and "no more silence, end gun violence." They also held a moment of silence for the Parkland victims.
Students across the nation participated in planned walkouts Wednesday to demand action on gun violence one month after the Feb. 14 killing of …
The protests also had a distinctly different flavor than earlier walkouts in Missoula and Bozeman.
Billings organizers emphasized that they weren't directly advocating for gun control, reading the political climate in right-leaning Billings; the closest signs and chants came to calling for specific policies was a sign that read "protect kids not guns."
Strong-Garcia called for "legislation that stops gun violence."
In contrast, The Bozeman Chronicle reported that Bozeman students marched from the high school to downtown, chanting slogans like, “Hey, Hey, NRA, How many kids will you kill today?”
Missoula students at Hellgate High School also marched off school grounds. Many carried signs similar to those at Senior, but some were more explicit: "My right to a safe education > your right to an AR-15."
Bozeman and Missoula schools both had a second round of walkouts Wednesday that were coordinated with the national protest.
It was sometime between the 58 people gunned down in Las Vegas and the 17 murdered in a Florida high school that Monte Beck realized he'd lost…
Billings students came and went from designated areas at all three high schools. Senior's, in front of the school along Grand Avenue, was cordoned off with caution tape. Administrators and police patrolled around the area. At West High School, more than 200 students walked out.
Superintendent Terry Bouck said that the protests would be a "teachable moment," and that teachers would take attendance before and after to see if students skipped out during the protest. School staff were barred from participating, and Bouck said teachers were expected to keep teaching through the walkout.
There were a handful of students at the protest who advocated for gun rights. One student, sitting on another student's shoulders, waved a black flag with a skull and crossed pistol-grip shotguns declaring "Second Amendment, America's original Homeland Security." The flag drew a handful of angry responses from students.
"You had different views represented, and they were respectful," Bouck said.
Senior Principal Jeff Uhern said that the walkout "was well organized, and students remained safe." He put crowd estimates at 250 students. Senior High has about 1,900 students enrolled.
About 30 adults supported the walkout from the sidewalk. The general public was barred from school grounds during the walkout.
At Skyview High, the walkout was more muted, principal Deb Black said. About 100 students walked, but the protest didn't have signs or coordinated chants.
Strong-Garcia emphasized a sense of urgency behind the protests. She also plugged a public march slated for Mar. 24.
"We want change, and we want it now," she said.