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In Gun-Friendly Montana, Student Walkout Steers Clear Of Politics

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Students all over the country walked out of class this morning, a month after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. In many cities, the walkouts were anti-gun protests, but at a high school in Helena, Mont., students said the walkout was a memorial. Montana Public Radio's Corin Cates-Carney reports.

CORIN CATES-CARNEY, BYLINE: Montana's culture of firearms runs deep in sport and self-defense. When students of Capital High walked out into their school courtyard, the mood was more grief than anger.

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AMANDA PENLEY: Seventeen people were shot in a school - a small-town high school not much different than ours.

CATES-CARNEY: That's Amanda Penley, a junior at Capital. She gave a speech as a member of the Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, which formed after the Parkland shooting. She said the walkout was a memorial with no political agenda.

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PENLEY: I would like to ask you all to remain respectful throughout this memorial. It is important to keep in mind that many of us gathered here are grieving the loss of not only the Parkland students but also friends or family members lost to gun violence.

CATES-CARNEY: After her speech, students read names and short bios of the Parkland victims. They ended with a moment of silence. Nathan Hartnett is a senior at Capital High who also walked out and attended the memorial. He says he's a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

NATHAN HARTNETT: But I still think that it's a broken system, and we've seen so many tragedies.

CATES-CARNEY: Hartnett, along with the Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, supports advocating for what they call smart gun legislation, like making sure there are background checks on gun purchases. Some members of the group want to increase the minimum age to purchase a gun. But Tanlee Pipinich, also a senior Capital, says the group's main focus is education, including teaching students what to do if a shooter enters the school.

TANLEE PIPINICH: We do own a lot of guns, and there are a lot of gun advocates in Montana. It's more of awareness towards how to use those. Like, especially in hunters' education, like, you're taught how to handle a gun safely. So I think that's just something we're trying to push for.

CATES-CARNEY: Students across Helena plan to take part in the March for Our Lives event this month. A counter-protest is expected at the same time under the banner March for our Guns. For NPR News, I'm Corin Cates-Carney in Helena. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.