By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Alexandria City Public Schools hosted a town hall conversation about guns in America’s schools at T.C. Williams High School on March 7.
Nearly 1,000 students, families and residents from throughout the region attended, and guest speakers included Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.), Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Fred Guttenberg, a father who lost his daughter in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
“When we see the students in Parkland,” said Jay Falk, a T.C. Williams senior who introduced the event, “we see our classmates, we see our friends and we see ourselves. As students, it is critical that we speak out and push for common sense gun reform, because those gun reforms might just save our lives.”
Guttenberg gave a powerful speech at the beginning of the event about dedicating his life to the cause of gun safety after losing his daughter Jaime in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting.
“Every time one of these incidents happens, the conversation afterwards is always way too polite, way too comfortable and way too temporary,” Guttenberg said. “I will always be respectful. I have no need to be polite, though. I don’t want to make people comfortable when we talk about it, and I’m not going away. This will not be temporary.”
Early in the evening, Beyer discussed legislation he’s recently introduced on the topic, including the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, a bill that would allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from an individual in crisis.
“Anyone who says we can’t do anything is wrong,” Beyer said. “I have a long, long list of very constructive, comprehensive pieces of legislation that Ted has introduced, I’ve introduced, many good people have put in, that we can get a vote on in the U.S. house or the U.S. senate.”
Following the guest speakers, there was an hourlong open mic period where speakers of different ages and backgrounds discussed gun violence. Speakers covered a range of topics and viewpoints, from inviting town hall attendees to protests to asking the legislators to take action.
One T.C. Williams senior asked how elected officials plan to keep fighting for gun safety once the heat dies down in Washington and “things go back to the way they were.”
Beyer replied that getting young people politically involved could make a difference.
Several elementary, middle and high school students throughout the region proved that they were passionate about the issue by turning out to speak at the event. In addition, many students at schools throughout the city participated in a 17-minute nationwide walkout on Wednesday morning to show support for the victims of the Parkland shooting.
While some speakers focused on party politics, others advocated that gun violence incidents should be non-political.
“There is common ground [between conservatives and liberals] here,” Alexandria resident Jill Hoffman said, “and one of those areas of common ground is to have a meaningful discussion about how we get a hold of the mental health issue, how we start early, and we go through the preventative measures.”
While speakers covered everything from mental health to the NRA, the common thread of discussion was putting a stop to mass school shootings across the country.
“I’m really proud of our students,” ACPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin said. “I’m proud of all of the students who have come forth and exercised their first amendment rights to express what they think and do their part to influence legislation, whatever stance they take.”