Story updated Friday, July 13, 2018
Survivors of a February Florida high school shooting massacre have secured a new venue for their planned Utah gun reform town hall after a suburban movie theater revoked its earlier offer.
The group, part of the March Four Our Lives movement, will hold Saturday's town hall at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy.
Students from the Parkland, Florida, school where 17 people were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are scheduled to speak.
University of Utah student and local organizer Ermiya Sanaeian says national and state organizers are calling for universal background checks, funding for CDC research into gun violence, and a ban on semi-automatic rifles in mostly red states, including Utah. “It is a state that is dominated by Republican elected officials. And, I do think it is a bit more important to come to red states, such as Utah. But we also want the people, the voters, the delegates of the city to understand why we are proposing this legislation, why we are so focused on gun reform through laws and hopefully that actually opens up their minds and leads them to the voter booths in November,” Sanaeian said.
The Utah Gun Exchange business has followed the students' road trip across the country in a military-style armored vehicle and has said it would host their town hall.
The students declined the offer, saying they wanted a gun-free location and are questioning the Utah Gun Exchange's motives.
Story updated Thursday, July 12, 2018
Organizers of a national tour scheduled to make a stop in Utah on Saturday say they are still looking for a location to hold their town hall meeting. The national road trip includes survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting who say they are still planning to hold a gun reform gathering here.
Owners of a Utah movie theater canceled a contract as the location for the gathering because of concerns about potential conflicts with gun-rights activists. One Salt Lake City organizer of the David Hogg Bus Tour says the event will happen, somewhere.
"We have not considered cancelling this event," said Ermiya Sanaeian, a student organizer with March For Our Lives Salt Lake City. "We have expressed continuously to the Parkland students, to the national organization, that we are excited for this event. So no, this has not been in our consideration."
The Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theaters withdrew from the contract Wednesday after learning the Utah Gun Exchange has taken its military-style armored vehicle across the country to follow the Florida students on their nationwide road trip.
"We are not necessarily surprised in any way. The other organizations and other people, they have used certain tactics to intimidate people, as we have seen. We are strict on security."
Law enforcement and representatives from the ACLU will be at the town hall meeting, where guns are prohibited and participants are encouraged to stick to a question/answer and panel discussion format.
Michael Chidister is a senior at Utah's Viewmont High School. He remembers the shootings in Parkland and plans to attend the Saturday meeting as a student defending the second amendment.
"I have family that own guns and like to go shooting. It is a fun hobby," Chidister said.
Chidister, who will represent the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action Saturday, says he would be disappointed if Parkland, Florida students are not able to share their ideas on ways to make schools safer.
"That would be unfortunate, because I am really looking forward to going out there and seeing what kind of conversations we can have and meet people on our side of the argument as well as other sides to see what we can talk about," he said.
"There's going to be people that are really out there trying to cause problems on both sides of whatever argument you have but I think overall we can talk peacefully and not have problems," Chidister said.
National March For Our Lives organizers will be naming a new location for the event through their social media outlets.
Students from Parkland, Florida, who led the March for Our Lives in Washington this spring, are now heading to Utah. Parkland shooting survivors will speak at a town hall-style meeting near Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been organizing for gun regulation since 17 people were killed at their school in February. They are calling for universal background checks, funding for CDC research into gun violence, and a ban on semi-automatic rifles.
Elizabeth Love is a Salt Lake City-based organizer volunteering with March for Our Lives. She said safety regulations are compatible with Second Amendment rights.
"This isn't an issue of whether there's going to be all guns or no guns," Love said. "We just want it to be regulated in the way that every other right is regulated."
Since June, the Road to Change Tour has been visiting U.S. cities affected by gun violence as well as places where the National Rifle Association has backed local politicians. Utah Republican Mia Love in 2016 was among top recipients of NRA contributions in Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. March for Our Lives organizers wants voters to take that into account.
Parkland students will join local organizers to lead the discussion at this week's town hall. Elizabeth Love said attendees of the Road to Change event will also have the opportunity to register to vote.
"Our main focus is getting young people more involved," she said; "not just in the issue of gun reform, but just in civic engagement in general."
Saturday's town hall event will be held at the Alder Amphitheater at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville.