NEWTON, NJ – Sparta High School student Anna Tartaglia and middle school student Shannon Huhn added their voices to those of others across the country who spoke at March for Our Lives rallies to support school safety.  With powerful, poised and passionate voices Tartaglia and Huhn spoke to the crowd gathered on the Green in Newton on Saturday.

In front of a crowd estimated between 350 and 400 people, according to local police, Tartaglia issued a challenge to law makers to do more than “send their thought and prayers,” because “in 2020 most of the people in the high school in Parkland and across the country will be eligible to vote.” 

Tartaglia said lawmakers who do not do anything to address this issue might just get their thoughts and prayers but not their votes.

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Huhn talked about having to participate in security drills in school.  She shared her own experience of having been in the bathroom when a drill was announced.  She explained, “in the bathroom the announcement isn’t clear so I didn’t know if I was going to get shot in the hallway or in trouble for being in the bathroom. I felt paralyzed.”

“These are the thoughts that go through our minds as students,” Huhn said in an interview.  She said that she wanted to speak at the rally so adults know how school children feel. 

“Attending this rally is important but you must vote to protect us,” Huhn said in her address. 

In her speech Tartaglia called out lawmakers for not having “enforced stricter background checks especially on someone with mental illness,” and for a not doing anything to stop an “AR 15 from getting into the hands of an unstable 19-year-old.”

While she began her remarks saying it was not a “political issue,” she said she had a “message for all of those politicians who are simply puppets for the NRA…Your children are worth so much more than any money or power the NRA could give you,” Tartaglia said, eliciting cheers from the crowd. 

Huhn also said neither she nor her peers think of this as a partisan issue, “not democrat or republican.  We see it as a clear issue between right and wrong.”

She called for people to vote against politicians who will not support stricter back ground checks, better mental health resources in our schools and our communities and banning assault style weapons. 

“Vote for us, vote for our safety,” Huhn said.  She also called on high school seniors in the crowd to register to vote. “You are powerful and you are paving the way.”

In an interview Tartaglia said she was looking to influence others to vote. 

“Since I can’t vote, I’m trying to get people who are passionate about the topic to vote the right way,” Tartaglia said. “The most important thing is for people to educate themselves and to vote.”

For the sophomore that means “getting educated” on who they vote for and “seeing the NRA support of a person and how they act after getting that support.”

Tartaglia said she knows “New Jersey is one of the safest states with good gun laws” and she is “grateful for that.”  She also said Sparta High School is doing a good job, having supported the Walk-Out on March 14.

“From a local view, we’re doing a good job,” Tartaglia said.  “Nationwide laws need to be better.”

“In Sparta I feel safe but I still kind of feel uneasiness because of how often this happens,” Huhn said in an interview.  She said next year when she is a student in the high school she plans to try to “start a gun advocacy club to work together to address the gun control issue.”

Tartaglia said “a good amount of students” are talking about the issue but “only a select few are speaking.”

It was a connection made by her mom that got Tartaglia to the microphone on Saturday. Tartaglia said her mother knows Joan Jacobson of Action Together Sussex County.  Jacobson was holding an organizational meeting for the march, inviting “students to attend so the students could organize it," according to Tartaglia.

She said Jacobson invited the students to submit speeches for consideration to be read at the march. 

“So I wrote one and she loved it,” Tartaglia said. 

She said she helped to promote the event on social media and talked to her friends about it.  Four of her friends attended with her but others from the school were also there Tartaglia said. 

Huhn said gun violence and gun control has often been part of the conversation during current events discussions in English class lately.   “We want to make our schools better,” Huhn said.

“I would love to see more legislators take into consideration what we’re seeing and consider a ban on assault weapons,” Huhn said. 

Students from other local high schools spoke as well, including from Newton, Vernon, High Point Regional,  North Warren Regional and Sussex Technical school as well as Hardyston Elementary, and Sparta Middle school, according to Jacobson.

"We were able to accomplish an historic and decisive event for our county," Jacobson said.  "Several times as we were able to view the crowd from the gazebo we were overcome with emotion."

Jacobson, with co-chair Lisa Anderson were the "adult organizers" while Zoe Heath, student leader from Vernon High School assisted them, spreading information about the march "by word of mouth," according to Jacobson, "following the guidelines of the website marchforourlives.com."

"It was an astounding day that rocked our county to the core," Jacobson said.

The next step according to Jacobson is to call representatives in the Legislative District 24, Assemblymen Parker Space, Hal Wirths and Senator Oroho to "tell them to vote yes on five bills:"

  • A1217 Extreme Risk Protection Order
  • A2757 Background check with every private gun sale
  • A2758 Codifying regulations on handgun permits
  • A2759 Ban armor piercing ammunition
  • A2761 Reducing ammunition magazine capacity from 15-10

Action Together Sussex County’s facebook page says they “are a project based organizing hub, a network of passionate do-ers.”  The organization’s publication says they have different experiences, ideas and beliefs” and seek to work together to support “action areas” including racial justice, reproductive rights, environmental concerns, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, gun violence, appointments to the supreme court of the United States and more.

The Action Together NJ organization, of which Action Together Sussex County is a part, has “Take Back the House!” as their main focus. Their website says, “We are a progressive Democratic group,” supporting “Democratic candidates only,” providing resources for people seeking to join their efforts to “Flip NJ” congressional districts.

“I think seeing all the young people coming together was inspiring, refreshing and I think they will finally demand change in this country,” Huhn said.

“The children of this country are tired of this and we are standing up for our lives,” Tartaglia said.  “We are the voices of the new generation and we want change.  And those who try to stop us cannot stand in our way.  We will out number you, we will out vote you and we will outlive you.”