“What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!” the crowd chanted, led by Taflinger after a moment of silence in remembrance of the 17 killed in Florida.
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, made an appearance to address the crowd.
“I wish you didn’t have to do this. I wish you could be in your classes. I wish you could be focusing on the things that you came here to study for,” Meyer said. “But the truth is, my generation and the generation before me has failed you. Your generation is going to have to lead. You’re going to have to speak up.”
Several students proudly admitted to skipping class to add their voices to the rally.
“This is the kind of thing that’s going to go down in history. We’ll look back and know that we were a part of this,” first-year Madison Devries said. “I want to be able to say that I gave it everything I could in the hopes that the future would be better.”
Meyer encouraged students to attend the General Assembly in Raleigh to continue their fight.
“I will work with you and open the doors," Meyer said. "But I need you to come and bring your energy and your voices."
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger reminded the crowd that rallies alone will not change gun policy laws and encouraged students to get involved in other supplementary ways.
“We are so proud of you for stepping up,” Hemminger said. “You are amazing on social media. What you’re not amazing at is voting. Get out there and vote. Make your voices heard. In a group like this, you are hard to ignore.”
Nearby, students registered to vote next to a table where protesters had the opportunity to write letters to survivors of the shooting.
“Congress will only make a change when people put pressure on Congress to change,” Meyer said.
U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., pleaded with students to keep the fight alive in the coming weeks.
“There really is something new about this, something powerful," Price said. "And it’s because of the students. We can’t let this die. We have to keep pushing.”
Many have noted that this shooting has inspired an unprecedented response from the younger generations, with survivors applying daily pressure to Congress for stricter gun control and students organizing large-scale walk-outs and protests across the nation.
“In North Carolina, there are more restrictions on fireworks than there are on firearms,” Meyer said, eliciting boos. “We can do better.”
In the crowd stood a student adding a distinctly collegiate flare to Meyer’s words with a sign asking how he could legally purchase an assault rifle, but not alcohol. Other students expressed similar frustrations with signs pieced together in dorm rooms despite midterm season.
“It’s so much more important to be civically engaged,” first-year Brady Creef said about the difficulty of attending a protest during a busy time. “If 17 kids in a high school can get gunned down and there’s no action, as a nation, we failed them, their families and all other kids who have gone through that and will potentially go through that.”
A group of Duke University students traveled from Durham to join the protest, carrying a sign reading, “If Duke and UNC can come together against gun violence, why can’t Congress?”
“We came out because it’s such an important cause,” Duke junior Eliana Lauder said. “There are no borders, even the week before the game.”