PORT ANGELES — Nearly 40 demonstrators pretended to lie dead outside a Northwest Peninsula Friends of the National Rifle Association fundraiser in Port Angeles with taps playing in the background.
The peaceful protest at the Vern Burton Community Center on Saturday was a demonstration against gun violence in the wake of recent school shootings, participants said.
The goal was to draw attention to student-led initiatives such as the nationwide school walk-out planned for Wednesday and the March for Our Lives protest in Seattle on March 24, organizers said.
“These kids are seniors in high school and they have grown up with these shooter drills their entire lives,” said Diana, a “Die in — Lie in” organizer who would not provide her last name.
“Nobody should have to live like that. It doesn’t make any kind of sense in terms of the kind of country we want to have.”
Emily Menshew, a Port Angeles High School senior and one of the organizers of Wednesday’s walkout, said it was “absolutely crazy” that NRA lobbyists gave more than $5 million to Congress last year to prevent gun control legislation from being passed.
“I am getting kind of tired of standing by and watching a lot of school shootings happen, going through a lot of lockdown drills my entire life,” Menshew said.
“I’m just here to kind of show the community that we are still tired of it and we are not going away.”
Menshew and three classmates stood holding signs along the path that leads to the Vern Burton center, where the Northwest Peninsula Friends of the National Rifle Association was holding its annual dinner and auction.
Proceeds from the auction benefit the NRA Foundation.
Grants from the foundation benefit shooting sports in the state, such as shooting range improvements and purchasing firearms and equipment for 4-H and school shooting teams, said Dwight Hughes, a committee member and organizer for the fundraiser.
“I agree with their right to protest, but they should have informed themselves a little more about what they were protesting against,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who emphasized he does not represent the NRA, said Friends of the NRA is dedicated to gun safety education and range development, noting that the Port Angeles High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps air rifle team has benefited from the nonprofit’s grants.
The some 100 people who attended the dinner raised about $10,000 to $12,000 he said, half of which will be used in Washington state.
None of the money raised goes toward NRA lobbying efforts, he said.
“You can’t do that with a 501(c)(3),” Hughes said. “You’d lose your tax exempt status.”
On Wednesday, Port Angeles High School students plan to walk out of class at 10 a.m. and stand at the flagpole for 17 minutes in honor of each victim of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting last month.
“We’re not protesting the school district,” Menshew said. “That’s not the intention of the walkout. It’s just awareness, and then kind of national unity since it is a nationwide walkout.”
Students are planning another demonstration for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting in 1999, Menshew said.
“Washington state has good gun legislation, but the United States as a whole does not,” Menshew added.
“We are going to keep fighting for it until it is national legislation that is going to make us feel safe in school.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.
Reporter Jesse Major contributed to this report.