US students stage walkouts in the thousands to protest gun violence

PARKLAND, FLORIDA US students spilled out of classrooms by the tens of thousands yesterday, chanting slogans like "No more silence" and "We want change" as part of a coast-to-coast protest over gun violence prompted by last month's massacre at a Florida high school.

The #ENOUGH National School Walkout was intended to pressure federal and state lawmakers to tighten laws on gun ownership despite opposition by the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights advocacy group.

With some students dressed in orange, the colour adopted by the gun control movement, the walkouts began at 10am local time in each time zone and were scheduled to last 17 minutes. Many rallies went longer.

The duration was a tribute to 17 students and staff killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb 14. It was the latest in a series of shootings that have plagued United States schools over the past two decades.

While many school districts gave their blessings to the walkouts, others said anyone who participated would be disciplined.

Many students defied the warnings, including over two dozen at Lindenhurst High School in New York, who were at first suspended, but then had their punishment reduced to detentions, according to a senior and the school superintendent.

In Parkland, thousands of students slowly filed onto the Stoneman Douglas football field to the applause of families and supporters beyond the fences as law enforcement officers looked on.

But not all students in Florida were in favour of gun control.

About 129 km north of Parkland at Vero Beach High School, chants of "No More Silence, end gun violence" were countered by shouts of "Trump" and "We want guns" from other students, according to video posted by newspaper TCPalm.- REUTERS