Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest gun violence in communities and schools. Local March For Our Lives events coincided with a national rally in Washington, DC.
Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County was no exception.
About one hundred students and community members met in front of Santa Maria High School on Saturday afternoon, and part of the protest was aimed at a gun store, located directly across the street from the high school.
You probably know the drill by now: handmade signs, chants, and megaphones.
“I don’t think it’s a protest. I think it’s a statement.” said Santa Maria resident Jacqueline Narachi. Narachi stood on the front steps of Santa Maria High School with a handmade sign that said, “Kids Get It. Do We?”
But the kids - or students - at the march on Saturday afternoon did seem to view the march as more of a protest.
“All the shootings and the stuff that’s been going on has just horrified me,” said Orcutt Junior High School student Sean Fina. He was holding sign that read, “Arms Are For Hugging.”
“It’s made me not feel safe," said Fina. "Even where I am, knowing that all of these assault rifles and weapons like these are available to pretty much anyone. So I wanted to protest that so we don’t have any more school shootings.”
A gun store is located directly across the street from where Fina stood in front of Santa Maria High School. You might actually miss it if you weren’t paying attention: the windows are dark, the storefront is nondescript, but there on the lawn is a sign for, Get R Gun.
"We knew in advance about the protest, but we didn’t really pay too much mind to it,” Luis Catalan, a Get R Gun employee, said on Monday.
Get R Gun, which lists itself online as, "America's largest online firearms and accessories mall," closes its brick and mortar location in Santa Maria early in the afternoon on Saturdays, so there wasn’t anyone there during the protest. According to Catalan, the gun store has been there for about two and half years. So, has anyone ever complained before?
“Nope,” said Catalan. “First time.”
But Catalan also said he understands why there is suddenly so much attention on the store. First, there’s the obvious increased awareness of school shootings in the country. But also, Santa Maria, like so many other schools across the country, has been receiving threats.
"After that Parkland [Florida] shooting, there has been a few posts online about how they are going to shoot up Santa Maria High,” said Catalan. “So I mean it drew a lot of attention.”
According to Catalan, Get R Gun sells pistols, shotguns and, as he put it, “from time to time,” automatic rifles. Also, its location isn’t breaking the law. There are no zoning or distance rules for gun shops to schools in the Santa Maria city code, according to the city’s planning department.
“I mean, I really don’t see a problem with [the location of Get R Gun],” said Catalan. “I mean we don’t have any underage kids coming in to handle guns. We do check IDs, just to make sure, if someone looks younger. We don’t really have a problem, or I don’t have an opinion on it."
However, Get R Gun’s location does make some students feel uncomfortable.
"I sort of think it’s really counterintuitive to have a gun store across from a high school," said Navy Blue Sims, a student at nearby Santa Maria high school, Pioneer Valley. “Actually, I was in the car on the way and I heard an advertisement for Get R Gun on my way to this protest, so I thought that was sort of disgusting.”
The students marched up and down the streets in front of the gun store and the school, while cars honked in support. Many students seemed happy that their voices were being heard. Sims’ younger brothers summed up the sentiment of the afternoon march when they piped in with the words, “It feels good. But sad.”