Students lead calls for gun law reform on National Die-In Day

720 seconds symbolizes deaths in mass shootings

By ANGELA BARAJAS, CNN
Amy Lipman/WPTV via CNN

(CNN) - Dozens of students and activists lay still on the lawn of the US Capitol for 12 minutes Tuesday at an event they hoped would focus attention on gun violence.

Organizers behind the event -- National Die-In Day -- said those 720 seconds symbolized the approximate number of people killed in mass shootings in the United States since the Pulse nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida.

Prior to the protest, a succession of speakers had pleaded with legislators to pass measures that would bring meaningful reform of gun ownership laws. A number of the speakers said they were themselves victims of gun violence.

One of those standing on the podium, 18-year-old Bree Butler, is a survivor of a mass shooting at her school. Her senior year at Santa Fe High School came to a horrifying end on May 18 when Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire and killed eight students and two teachers.

"This is the most important thing, for my life ... I have a life because of this movement," said Butler, wearing a hoodie and a "Survivor" button.

Texas gun culture

Butler is one of relatively few voices calling for change to emerge from Texas -- a state with a long history of conservatism on gun control.

Days after the shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott advocated for armed marshals, an increase in law enforcement, stronger gun storage laws and more funds to be allocated to mental health issues.

Butler said her initial sadness over the killings at her school has since shifted to anger. She has made activism her focus by co-founding an organization called Orange Generation. She said the group is moving forward by advocating a "moderate" approach to the ongoing gun violence crisis.

The group's approach stops short of asking for a weapons ban. Butler's tight-knit community, just south of Houston, is very vocal on the preservation of Second Amendment rights.

'We are not gun grabbers'

"The message that I'm advocating for has very mixed feelings in Texas. We are not gun grabbers. We are not trying to infringe on your second amendment right. We don't want your guns. We just want to be safe."

Butler said the thinking behind the event at the Capitol was to get lawmaker's attention.

"We want them to know that we are serious. We want them to know we will vote them out. We will vote them out if they don't listen to us and they don't enact change that will save our lives. Because we don't want to die and this is literally life-or-death voting."

Seven-year-old Havana Chapman-Edwards also attended Tuesday's event, carrying a sign that read "Tiny Black Lives Matter."

Although Butler is moving more than 300 miles to attend the University of North Texas and major in International Studies, she vows to keep advocating for measures that prevent mass shootings. "There are some people that don't have lives because this movement didn't start sooner," she said.

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