ICCSD informal student group protests gun violence, legislative failings

ICCSD students Sasha Ackerman and Peter Brozine have organized several walkouts and protests over the last year with a goal for gun law reform in Iowa.


Grace Smith

Oliver Plews, 12, during a protest against gun violence put on by Iowa City high school students on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Plews attended the protest because gun safety is a cause he cares deeply about. “I don’t want to have to wake up and go to school thinking I might get shot,” Plews said.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

Growing up in the era of mass shootings, Iowa City High School students Sasha Ackerman and Peter Brozine kept asking themselves what they could do to address gun violence.

Brozine made a point to stay educated by watching and reading the news, but he thought he couldn’t do anything because he was a child. His perspective changed after seeing his peers hold an anti-gun violence protest.

“In eighth grade, somebody from City High hosted a protest, and so then I was like, ‘Hey, I’m finally old enough that people will listen,” he said.

Nationwide, students have protested against gun violence through organizations like March For Our Lives. But advocacy is also happening at the local level, including in Iowa City.

Ackerman said the first protest she attended occurred during elementary school when her mother decided to take her to an anti-gun violence protest.

“There was some students that shared their stories and their fear, and it was like really poetic, their speeches. And it just, I was young, and it scared me,” Ackerman said.

As more protests happened in recent years, Ackerman said she has tried to educate herself on the issues of gun violence.

In December 2022, around 100 K-12 students and Iowa City community members participated in a protest against gun violence that was organized by high school students. A similar protest also occurred in June 2022 that was organized by K-12 students in Iowa City schools that called for stricter gun laws and active shooter drills.

When hosting their first protest about gun violence, which occurred when they were in middle school, Brozine said he reached out to the principal at South East Junior High School, who helped the students access politicians’ contact information.

The principal also informed the students of lockdown training for teachers where police come in to shoot blanks to simulate a school shooting, he said.

“She pointed out that, even though the teachers are [like] no, it’s not real, it’s still very traumatic for them,” Brozine said. “I don’t think training should be mandatory because obviously, that’s very traumatic, but I feel like they should at least give us the option. So that way we have, even if we don’t make use of it, we still have that knowledge.”

Ackerman said Iowa K-12 schools should practice gun violence prevention.

“I know from my school, it’s really easy to get in. Yeah, they lock the doors, but you can just press the button on the lock,” Ackerman said. “You don’t even have to show your ID, and they let you in.”

While walking in the halls at school, Ackerman said she sometimes flinches when she turns a corner and sees someone because of her fear of active shooters.

Brozine said whenever he is in an area — whether a classroom, bathroom, hallway, or a concert venue — he makes sure to have an exit plan because of rising gun violence.

“It’s getting really common,” he said. “A lot of the adults I talk to are like, it is not that common. It probably won’t happen, but it could though.”

When organizing protests, Brozine said it’s important to take into account what will impact the intended audience.

“We probably won’t do any more walkouts for a while because we had, like, four or five of them last year, and eventually, it doesn’t have as much of like the shock value, which is very important when you want to get the media’s attention and the people’s attention,” Brozine said.

RELATED: Iowa City students march to Pentacrest to call for end to gun violence

Once a plan for a protest is formed, he said, students put up posters in school and around downtown Iowa City to reach an audience beyond the middle and high schools. Brozine and Ackerman said they reach out to their friends in middle school to increase the circulation of posters and word of mouth in addition to posting on social media.

“When you are hosting a protest, you want to make sure you’re, you know, letting people know what your goal is, why you’re protesting, and what you want to get out of it,” Ackerman said.

Brozine said their main goal is gun reform.

“When we say gun reform and gun control, we mean things like better background checks, not allowing the public to have high powered machine guns,” Brozine said.

Ackerman said another important facet of gun reform is closing loopholes in legislation such as gun show sales.

“It’s not a law that those vendors have to do background checks. So even if people have a history in abuse or violence, they can still get a gun, and those people won’t know about it,” she said. “They need to do better on the background checks with that.”

Ackerman said Gov. Kim Reynolds should do more to prevent gun violence.

“[Reynolds] said, like, gun violence isn’t her biggest issue right now, and that’s a huge problem to me,” she said. “I’ll go on the news, and I’ll see like a shooting in Maquoketa, a shooting in Des Moines, and it’s just getting closer and closer.”