For several hundred Massachusetts students, Wednesday’s snow day wasn’t a day off. It was the day they would join waves of students across the nation in a walkout to protest gun violence and rally for more strict gun control policies following last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed.

“Coming here today, getting the promise of senators and representatives that they’ll support these bills, is essential to gain further traction, to show people … you actually can make a difference,” said Jack Torres, a student at Somerville High School.

Students, parents and gun control advocates from Boston, Somerville, Andover, and other nearby cities and towns met at St. Paul’s Church before marching to the Massachusetts State House to address lawmakers. While crossing Boston Common and upon reaching the State House steps, the crowd held signs and chanted, “Enough is enough!” and “Not one more!”

They had the backing of adults such as Chris Austill, whose daughter is a student at Somerville High.

“I’m here because adults haven’t done their job around gun control, and the young people are taking the lead,” Austill said, adding that his daughter and her peers have been meeting regularly since the Parkland shooting to organize. "I want to support them."

“There’s a lot of passion from them,” he said. “What I didn’t really understand is that the gun violence issue really affects the young people every day. Even if it hasn’t come to Massachusetts [as a mass shooting], they all know somebody who’s been around a gun, or whose house has been shot at. They’re all scared every day. It’s very personal for all [of] them.”

Student protestors for gun control at the State House
Students, parents, advocates and others gather at the entrance to the Massachusetts State House.
Paris Alston/WGBH News

Advocacy groups such as the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action also attended the rally. Once inside the State House, the crowd filled the Gardner Auditorium to capacity. As they waited for lawmakers to join them, the students discussed what any teenagers would — their studies, their friends, extracurricular activities — but soon, it was back to business.

Student leaders took turns speaking on behalf of their peers, asking lawmakers a simple question: Will you support legislation to tighten gun control policies in Massachusetts?

The legislation the students were referring to is an extreme risk protection order bill that would further restrict the ability for “certain at-risk persons” to carry firearms. While Massachusetts’ gun laws are among the toughest in the nation, the students said the Commonwealth can be doing more to protect all who are affected by gun violence.

Students from Boston, in particular, tried to expand their peers’ outrage at school shootings to include the gun violence they said young people face in the streets of Boston.

“When we support the movement that has sprouted out of Parkland, we also need to turn and heal our own communities. Gun violence is presenting itself in two distinct forms — one that has been manifesting itself in our country for decades, and is still being ignored, and another that started with the Columbine shooting,“ said Evelyn Reyes, a student at John D. O’Bryant High School in Roxbury. “We need laws that protect all, not just those that suffer from events that are recognized by the nation.”

Students protesting for gun control address the State House
Students such as Evelyn Reyes (center, at podium) address Massachusetts lawmakers in the Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House.
Paris Alston/WGBH News

Rep. Byron Rushing, who represents parts of Boston’s South End, Fenway and Roxbury neighborhoods, echoed Reyes. He added that gun control changes require a substantial societal change.

“We have a nation that has a significant gun culture,” he told the students. “We have to change the culture … You are ready to do it. I can hear that you are ready to do it.”

Those who support gun rights in Massachusetts say they are uncertain about the effectiveness of extreme risk protective orders and question whether the students who were protesting understand current and proposed gun legislation. 

"I think it's important for them to know what we already have in place as far as laws go, and there's a lot," Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners' Action League, the National Rifle Association affiliate in Massachusetts, told WGBH News. He added that the students need to know "what these extreme risk protection orders bills do and don't do." 

Senate President Harriette Chandler says the state cannot rely on the laws in place to protect itself from gun violence.

“The students are right: we need to do more," Chandler wrote in a statement. "I believe extreme risk protection order legislation is an important next step, and we look forward to moving forward with our partners in the House to get this done." 

The bill has not yet been brought for a vote, but is currently being held in the House-controlled Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. WGBH News reached out to the members of the committee for comment, but none responded.

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Paris Alston wrote the story and Bianca Vázquez Toness created the audio version. 

Mike Deehan contributed reporting to this story.