Honors student starts new club after Parkland shooting

BY ANGELA DIMICHELE

Chris Bell was attending a vigil for Parkland shooting victims when he realized he could do more so that he wouldn’t have to attend another vigil.

The 22-year-old UF political science, history and Spanish major, senior and Honors student searched online to find another student group advocating against gun violence. He found none, he said.

Bell said tragedies relating to gun violence are seen too often today.

“It is senseless violence that is preventable if we enact common sense security measures so that these weapons don’t end up in the wrong hands,” Bell said.

After 17 students and faculty were killed in a South Florida high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Valentine’s Day, Bell wants to stop teenagers like the shooter 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz from purchasing an AR-15.

Without gun reform, Bell said, incidents like the one on Valentine’s Day will continue.

“Parkland should be the last,” he said. “I do not want my high school to be the next.”

Bell shared his message with others on a Facebook page he created following the vigil and announced the inaugural meeting of his new club, Gators Against Gun Violence. About 30 students met on February 26 in Farrior Hall.

“Through organizing protests, spreading awareness, registering voters, get-out-the-vote drives, and other forms of civic engagement, we hope to hold our elected officials accountable and make voters remember the Stoneman 17 (and many more) come election day,” he wrote.

Bell said this club will offer a way students can meet and talk about gun violence issues and advocate to change gun laws in Florida by encouraging younger people to vote and be registered to vote.

“This should be a good vehicle for people to at least keep this in mind, even if it is just handing out a pamphlet, having a conversation with someone for Election Day or getting somebody to register to vote with this in mind,” he said.

Bell said he’s putting plans to make the club official through Student Government on hold while the club address urgent action.

Bell’s most immediate plans are to make signs and posters and mobilize as many people as possible to protest downtown and Tallahassee, he said. Club members are planning to attend protests like March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on March 24 and a protest on the Reitz Union North Lawn on April 12.

UF alumnus Jonathen Settle, 23, attended a Gainesville City Commission meeting on Thursday with another member of Gators Against Gun Violence. It was his first time going to any local political meeting, he said.

“I was happy to see concerned citizens being involved with their government,” Settle said.

Bell said the Parkland shooting hit close to home for him. Many of his friends were affected.

“I think the collective passion on campus should carry over for six, seven or eight months and then indefinitely until something actually changes.”

Bell said there will be at least one or two more meetings before the March For Our Lives on March 24. The club is meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in Keene-Flint Hall, room 105, to make posters and signs before the march.

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