Denver East High School Students Rally For Gun Control in Wake of Student Death: “We Need the Student Voice”


Carly Philpott

Denver East High School students chant “Luis Garcia, say his name!” on the west steps of the Capitol. Garcia, 16, an East student, died March 1 after being shot outside his school on Feb. 13. “I hope that we can start to see that students are safe and that nothing has to happen, for example, to such a good kid that Luis was,” said East senior Wesley Krebs, a soccer teammate of Garcia’s.

Carly Philpott, Editor-in-Chief

It was 9 a.m. on a school day, but Denver East High School students were rallying on Capitol Hill.

It was a demonstration of grief and rage. East student Luis Garcia, 16, died March 1. He had been shot outside the school Feb. 13, in a case that is under investigation. On Thursday, East students mourned the loss of Garcia, who was a well-known member of the varsity soccer team. But on Friday, March 3, they protested.

“I’m just hoping that things aren’t just said about gun violence being changed,” said East senior Wesley Krebs, a center back on the soccer team and one of Garcia’s teammates. “I hope that we can start to see that students are safe and that nothing has to happen, for example, to such a good kid that Luis was.”

Around a thousand East students chanted on the west steps of the Capitol, joined by kids from other area high schools, including Creek. Many also entered the building, speaking with legislators about gun regulation. Several soccer players, including Krebs, spoke to Senator Chris Hansen, a current Denver mayoral candidate who represents some East students.

“Them being in the room with us, as we’re having this discussion, really creates the fierce urgency of now,” Hansen said. “And that’s what we need in a legislative body.”

East students were joined by the Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action, who, by coincidence, had a scheduled Advocacy Day for multiple gun regulation bills moving through Colorado Congress at the same time. The group, founded by an Indiana mom in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, supports gun legislation nationwide. Colorado chapter lead Abbey Winter said that it was powerful to see high schoolers show up.

“Students should not have to show up and advocate for their basic safety and their life. Students should be safe in their communities, period,” Winter said. “And yet, they are a powerhouse and a force. It’s heartening to see and we’re thrilled to be able to come together on this day and do this work together.”

Krebs echoed Winter’s sentiment. “I think that it’s just a horrible thing that such an innocent kid was shot outside our school. It’s also not the first time this has happened, and there was no reason for it,” he said. “But it’s sad to say that our schools aren’t safe. So all of our students and soccer team are trying to come here and protest that we need change for gun violence because it’s important.”

Following Garcia’s death, many East students leaned on FaithBridge, a Denver organization that supports area students in completing their education. After reaching out to East following Garcia’s death, FaithBridge helped students plan and execute their rally and the conversations they held with legislators. FaithBridge Executive Partner Vernon Jones, Jr., expressed awe at students’ willingness to show up and fight for change.

“Look, adults can’t ignore you if you’re present, right?” Jones said. “You might not be eligible to vote yet, but let me tell you, your voice matters. The future that you want, the desire that you have for a better tomorrow, needs to show up in this space every day, because sometimes adults get stuck in politics, and they need to hear the passion of young people who say ‘that’s not the world we want.’”

Senate President Pro Tempore James Coleman, who also represents many East students, is the executive director at FaithBridge. Coleman spoke to many East kids on Friday, many of whom he said expressed similar “frustration and sadness.”

“I’m glad for the mixed emotions, and ultimately, it’s going to spur us to do something,” he said.

Among the legislation currently moving through Congress is a bill that will raise the age requirement to buy some firearms from 18 to 21. Coleman has worked on this bill as chair of the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

Another major proponent of the bill is Senator Tom Sullivan, who represents many Creek students and has been vocal about gun law reform since being first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2019. He says restricting gun use to above 21 will help reduce mass shootings, where many perpetrators are still in their teens or early twenties.

“We saw that in Uvalde, we saw that in Buffalo, where as soon as they turned 18, they went and got themselves an assault weapon,” Sullivan said. “So that’s all we’re doing, is limiting that until they become the age of 21. That, I think, is a direct correlation.”

Hansen described the urgency of moving these bills through Congress and to the desk of Governor Jared Polis as quickly as possible, even when “the legislative body can be sometimes painfully slow.” And he asked students to come back and keep advocating.

“Come and share your testimony why it’s important for you that this bill move forward,” he said. “We need the student voice in this process.”

Coleman agreed. He said that students’ advocacy that day had made a difference, and that he and other legislators are going to make sure their words were not in vain.

“We love you, we are praying for you – I’m a man of faith,” Coleman said. “But as a state senator, I have a job to pass policy and law that helps prevent these kinds of things. So be encouraged, and we’re going to be here working on your behalf.”

This story won First Place Breaking News from CSMA.