1,500 students, elected leaders rally for gun control at SUNY Farmingdale March for Our Lives

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Nearly 25 years have passed since Colin Ferguson stepped onto a Long Island Rail Road train in Mineola and started indiscriminately firing a 9mm pistol at passengers. Six were killed and 19 wounded. Kevin McCarthy, a broker with Prudential Securities in New York City, took a bullet to the head, but he survived. His left arm remains partially paralyzed.

McCarthy appeared at the March for Our Lives rally at SUNY Farmingdale on Saturday morning, and was one of the last speakers in a long line of students, educators and elected leaders in an hour-and-a-half-long program focusing on stricter gun controls — in particular, bans on assault weapons and bump stocks — and denunciations of the all-or-nothing politics of the National Rifle Association.

The rally was one of more than 700 that took place across the country on Saturday, five and a half weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 students and teachers were killed by a lone gunman, a former student at the school, who brandished an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. The demonstration included 17 seconds of silence to remember the victims.

“I’m here as a victim,” McCarthy told the crowd of 1,500, which overflowed from the expansive Nold Athletic Complex gymnasium into the foyer.

McCarthy’s father, Dennis, died in the LIRR massacre. His mother, Carolyn, ran successfully for Congress on a gun-control platform in 1996. The Mineola Democrat, a former nurse, served in Congress for 18 years, until a cancer diagnosis forced her into retirement in 2015.

Kevin McCarthy was met by thunderous applause when he called on lawmakers to stand up for citizens rather than special interests. Then he said simply, “Enough is enough,” and spectators erupted, chanting the message in unison while stomping their feet on the bleachers.

It was the same chant that U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, led earlier in the program. “I want all of the young people to recognize that we need you,” said Suozzi, a primary organizer of the rally. “Your country needs you.”

Suozzi spoke at length about the 1993 LIRR massacre. “It’s been 25 years, and our lawmakers in Washington refuse to support common-sense gun-control measures,” he said. “There is something wrong in this country,” the congressman continued. “There is something severely wrong.” In young people, however, he noted, “We see the hope for America.”

Catherine Chen, a Hicksville High School junior, was among the student speakers. She spoke out against a recent proposal to arm teachers, calling the plan “myopic” and saying she believed that it was proposed “to shift public attention away from meaningful gun legislation.” Chen went so far as to call the NRA’s political contributions “blood money.”

Mehr Sharma, also a Hicksville High junior, called for a ban on “semiautomatic weaponry.” “Do not use the Second Amendment to justify the selling of arms,” she said.

Jack Stalzer, of Sea Cliff, is a senior at North Shore High School in Glen Head. He was on a student trip to Spain on Feb. 14, the day of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High. His host family, he said, asked why he thought such shootings keep happening in the United States, because they do not occur with regularity in Spain. “I had no words,” Stalzer said.

On Friday, however, all of the eligible seniors at North Shore High registered to vote, and that, he said, “gives me hope.”

Justin Dynia, of Merrick, a senior at Kennedy High School in Bellmore, introduced Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat, before she spoke. “This is very refreshing to see the youth get involved,” Dynia said in an interview before the rally. “I’m hoping something gets done.” He was among 40 students who helped organize the demonstration.

Camille Pfeiffer, of Franklin Square, was in the audience with her 14-year-old daughter, Gianna, a ninth-grader at H. Frank Carey High School. “We’re looking for safety in the schools,” Camille said.

“I want to feel safe when I go to school,” Gianna said, “and I want my friends to feel safe, too.”

Debbie Gershow Lindell, of Plainview, was a guidance counselor at Memorial Junior High School in Valley Stream for 15 years. “Kids have to be able to walk into math class and not worry about where they’ll hide if a shooter comes in,” she said. “We’re traumatizing a whole generation of children.”