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'Everything sounded like gunfire': Student organizations hold rally against gun violence

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Students hold signs during a rally in front of South Building on Polk Place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. The event was hosted by March for Our Lives UNC, Students Demand Action and the UNC Young Democrats.

In front of camera crews and hundreds of peers and community members, more than 50 UNC students stood facing the crowd, holding a banner with the words "THIS IS OUR REALITY" during a rally following Monday's campus shooting. 

Students hold a banner that reads, "THIS IS OUR REALITY" at a rally in front of South Building on Polk Place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. 

Co-hosted by UNC Young Democrats and the University chapters of March for Our Lives and Students Demand Action, the rally was held outside South Building on Wednesday, Aug. 30. 

Attendees held handwritten signs with messages that read, "1 death by guns is 1 too many," "School shootings are so normal professors kept teaching," and "If I am killed here, throw my ashes on the legislature." 

A participant of the rally in front of South Building on Polk Place holds a sign as they listen to speakers on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. 

The event included gun safety advocates and local Democrats, with speakers such as Anderson Clayton, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) and N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person). 

It opened with a moment of silence for UNC professor Zijie Yan, the victim of Monday's shooting, while the Bell Tower rang three times before UNC Young Democrats secretary Sloan Duvall began to speak.  

Students and community members attend a rally organized by March for Our Lives UNC, Students Demand Action and the UNC Young Democrats in front of South Building on Polk Place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

"We are sharing our lived experiences and calling on our lawmakers to do better," Duvall said. "Don't let our reality be living in fear every day we go to school."

During the rally, Luke Diasio, vice president of the UNC chapter March For Our Lives, opened his speech with three words: "I am pissed." 

"We were unsure if our lives would end as we barricaded our doors with desks, listened to police radio in silence and frantically texted our loved ones as we huddled against the walls on the cold tile floor," he said. "Everything sounded like gunfire."

A participant of the rally in front of South Building on Polk Place lifts a sign in the air on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

Diasio called out gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association which he said lobbied legislators for decades to do nothing. He said he was demanding legislation and bills that would put an end to gun violence. 

"Channel the fear you felt in that classroom into your vote and elect politicians who care about gun violence," he said. 

Despite working closely on the issue of gun violence as the president of March For Our Lives UNC, Megan Chen said she never expected it to occur on her own campus.

She said she felt "naive" for not anticipating the shooting because of the accessibility of firearms.   

"While everyone hoped that it would never happen to them, it ultimately did," she said.

Chen said there was a lot of debate between the organizations involved about whether or not the rally was too soon. But in the end, they decided it was best to get people together and to not lose media focus. 

Clayton said during and after the lockdown on Monday, she called students from UNC Young Democrats to make sure that they were safe. The echoing reply that she heard from every student, she said, wasn’t fear. 

Instead she heard anger and "a lot of rage."

North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton speaks to attendees of a rally in front of South Building on Polk Place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. 

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Clayton also said she responded with encouragement for the students to organize and engage with the issue rather than to turn away from it. In addition to being "shocked" and "scared for people," she said she was concerned about the desensitization of the topic. 

"People don't think about 'Am I next?'," first-year Elena Abuin said. "People think 'Oh, wow, that's tragic for them, that's tragic for what happened to them.'" 

Abuin held a sign with the words "AM I NEXT?" in blaring red letters during the rally. She said that to her, the statement on the sign "personalizes the issue."

Abuin was at Campus Health during the lockdown. But if it wasn't for an issue with her insurance, Abuin said she would have been walking through the location of the shooting. 

She said that while she and a lot of students were hesitant to join the rally, in the end, it was "beautiful." To Abuin, the wall of students facing the crowd looked like "a mural."

Students hold signs during a rally protesting gun violence in front of South Building on Polk Place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. 

@l_rhodsie 

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com


Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is the 2024 university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant editor and senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics. 

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