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Safety & Discipline

Students head to Harrisburg to voice concerns on guns and school safety

Jamie Martines
| Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 8:12 a.m.
Allison Nepple, a sixth-grader at Greensburg Salem Middle School, turns to talk to her mother, Laura Nepple, as they board the bus to a gun control rally in Harrisburg at the Sideling Hill rest stop on April 11, 2018.
Allison Nepple, a sixth-grader at Greensburg Salem Middle School, turns to talk to her mother, Laura Nepple, as they board the bus to a gun control rally in Harrisburg at the Sideling Hill rest stop on April 11, 2018.
Rob Conroy, director of organizing at CeaseFirePA, gives directions to rally attendees on the bus to Harrisburg April 11, 2018. The group of about 45 Pittsburgh-area residents will attend a rally and meet with lawmakers about gun control and school safety laws.
Rob Conroy, director of organizing at CeaseFirePA, gives directions to rally attendees on the bus to Harrisburg April 11, 2018. The group of about 45 Pittsburgh-area residents will attend a rally and meet with lawmakers about gun control and school safety laws.

Pittsburgh-area students and community members interested in advocating for gun control and school safety measures are on the road again.

This time, they're heading to Harrisburg to attend a rally at the state Capitol building and to meet with lawmakers. About 45 residents of Pittsburgh and the surrounding suburbs joined the group, organized by the gun control advocacy group CeaseFirePA.

The rally coincides with House Judiciary Committee public hearings on gun violence taking place this week.

"Our legislators, the higher-ups, aren't doing anything," said Kaitlyn Donaldson, a 10th-grader and one of about 15 students from Woodland Hills High School to attend.

"As children, we have to step up and take on adult roles," Donaldson said.

Donaldson and her classmates are scheduled to meet with Rep. Paul Costa, D-Braddock, Wednesday afternoon. They plan to advocate for bans on assault-style weapons and bump stocks, as well as stricter background checks.

Some students, like Grace Brennan, a 12th-grader at Woodland Hills, see the trip to Harrisburg as an opportunity to take action, "not just rallying for action," she said.

Brennan, who attended the March for Our Lives event with a group of about 200 Pittsburgh-area students in March, hopes to now focus on local issues changing Pennsylvania gun control laws.

The group left the Hill District around 5:45 a.m. Wednesday and will rally at the Capitol starting at 10 a.m. Ciara Turner, also a student at Woodland Hills, will speak during the program.

Turner lost her twin brother, Jerame Turner, 16, to gun violence in November. He was one of four Woodland Hills students to die in a shooting this school year .

Other students, like Allison Nepple, a sixth-grader at Greensburg Salem Middle School, are taking the opportunity to push lawmakers on school safety legislation.

"I feel like we should have more funds than we do," Nepple said of funding for school safety initiatives.

Nepple and her mother, Laura, will meet with Rep. Eric Nelson, D-Greensburg, this afternoon.

"It's really important to make sure they go to school and they're safe," Laura Nepple, the mother of three children in the Greensburg Salem School District, said.

Sean Stefanko, a 12th-grader at North Allegheny High School, hopes to meet with Rep. Mike Turzai, R-McCandless, this afternoon.

Though he's not old enough to vote yet — Stefanko will turn 18 in May — he still thinks it's important to make his views on gun control heard.

"It's our job to let them know what we want," Stefanko, who said he has first-hand experience with handling firearms, said.

Stefanko said he is a former Junior ROTC member and used to shoot competitively. He's heading to Harrisburg to advocate for laws that would require those convicted of domestic abuse crimes to give up their firearms, as well as laws that would limit magazine capacity.

"I can't say that to hunt, I've ever needed more than two rounds," Stefanko said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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