- Students walked out of schools across the country protesting gun violence on Wednesday.
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined students in Lower Manhattan.
- While Cuomo said he supported the students, he didn’t get behind some of their calls to ban guns entirely.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joined hundreds of students in Lower Manhattan as they staged a “die-in” during the National School Walkout on Wednesday. While he seemed supportive of their aims and energy, he shied away from throwing his weight behind some of their most controversial proposals.
A boisterous crowd of protesting students filled Zuccotti Park in New York City’s financial district, holding signs decrying the epidemic of gun violence in schools across the country.
Student Ida Butcher had some harsh words for the governor, who she said hasn’t been vocal enough on the gun issue.
“Governor Cuomo, you gotta do better than this, my guy. You’re doing real bad, real bad,” Butcher told Business Insider. “Look at how everybody’s dying for no reason. What if that was to happen over here? Now what are you going to do?”
The crowd, which represented just one out of many groups of students who had walked out of schools across New York City, moved out of the park, and Cuomo marched with them.
When pressed on his response to student’s who were concerned about his response, he offered a measured response.
“I don’t want to argue with the students because I’m very impressed with them and their activism,” he said. “After Sandy Hook, we passed something called the SAFE Act, which is the single most aggressive gun safety law in the United States of America.”
New York state’s SAFE Act, which became law in 2013, is broad – it includes an assault weapons ban, mandates universal background checks, and requires life without parole for anyone who kills a first responder.
But the law is not without its critics. Some mental health experts have said that the bill’s focus on preventing people will dangerous mental illnesses might inhibit their access to therapy because it would require doctors to tell authorities if their patients are a danger to themselves or others, potentially resulting in their firearms being seized.
“Some of the students were saying we should ban guns totally. We should just have a society with no guns. I understand that sentiment,” Cuomo continued. “That’s not my position; that’s not the Constitution. But I respect the student’s position, which is absolutist. I understand their position, but I don’t agree with it.”
As Cuomo continued to march with students, many expressed their condolences for students killed in school shootings.
Nathanial Singleton participated in the die-in at Zuccotti Park.
“We’re here to respect the dead 17 kids who died in the Florida shooting,” Singleton said. “We want to say sorry to their families who died, and bless their souls. I just gotta tell the truth. There’s no way you’re going to stop school shootings with just changing the laws.”
The New York City students joined kids across the US protesting in 3,000 demonstrations. They walked out of school for 17 minutes, each minute commemorating a death in the Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school a month ago.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers who was also at Wednesday’s “die-in,” explained why she thought this moment was different from past efforts to address gun violence in America.
“I think this is piercing the stranglehold that the NRA has on stopping any sensible gun violence measures,” she told Business Insider, stating that school children are finally saying, “‘Wait a second, we can do something about this.’ This is different, this is the kid’s righteous anger.”
Daniel Brown contributed reporting to this article.
This article has been corrected after initially misstating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first name.
Watch Cuomo’s response to students here:
I asked Andrew Cuomo earlier today for his response to New York students at the #NationalWalkoutDay nyc who said he wasnt doing enough on gun safety. His response: “I understand their position, but I don’t agree with it.” pic.twitter.com/PI3N8M5WoQ
— Michał Kranz (@Michal_Kranz) March 14, 2018