WASHINGTON — Members of Congress joined three Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students Tuesday at a forum on gun violence, continuing the student-led debate over guns after a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and giving the students another opportunity to take their issues to those in power.
“I had my opinion and I had my beliefs and, obviously, I felt very discouraged by the recent presidential election, but definitely I’m seeing that we do have the power to make a difference because prior, I think, I just felt helpless,” said Sophie Cobb, a B-CC senior who helped organize the event with two fellow students, Julien Cary and Gabriela Jeliazkov
Cobb was joined at DC’s Studio Theater by two sitting House members – 8th District Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – as well as Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D).
Moderating the forum was Washington Post reporter and B-CC parent Nick Anderson, who alternated between quizzing the members of Congress on solutions to gun violence and working in students’ thoughts on the subject, including wondering why anyone would need an “assault rifle” or why the shooting was not called an act of terrorism.
For Cary, the month since the Florida shooting has seen him transform from an apolitical student to one engaged enough to host and interview members of Congress, quizzing them about key pieces of legislation.
“When Parkland happened that kind of changed my mind, it inspired me more to get out there and make a change,” Cary said.
“I have said repeatedly that I am confident that when they write the history of the horrible tragedy that happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, that the school and the way the school is viewed will not be judged by the tragedy, will not be seen through this horrific act of gun violence, but instead by the incredible wave of student activism and the movement that has sprung up out of this tragedy,” said Deutch, whose congressional district includes the Parkland school where the shooting took place.
Raskin suggested that Congress should take up a bill along the lines of Maryland’s 2013 Firearm Safety Act, which he helped shepherd through the House of Delegates in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. The Maryland law bans semi-automatic rifles with certain cosmetic features, requires gun purchasers to be fingerprinted and prohibits the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“What I tell my conservative friends every single day in Congress is, this is not our social contract, our first obligation is to keep our people safe, and they understand that – especially those who have done military service,” Raskin said.
Raskin, Deutch and Van Hollen reserved the lion’s share of blame for the National Rifle Association, blaming the pro-gun lobbying group for Congress’ failure to enact any effective gun control measures like a renewed assault weapons ban. Each offered their support for gun control such as legislation to support universal background checks, banning bump stocks and an ability for a judge to order a person’s guns be temporarily taken away if there is evidence the person has committed domestic violence.
While the crowd was overwhelmingly in support of the congressman, as each gun control proposal was met with near universal applauds, the abrupt end of the forum was met with reaction in protest from some B-CC students who wanted someone with a different opinion on the issue on the stage.
“I thought the panel was very one-sided, they only showed one perspective,” said B-CC student Ezra Meyer, who was one of several students who said they wished the panel had featured someone who advocated different on gun control. Some students said the term “assault rifle” is misnomer that gun-control advocates use for semi-automatic rifles, and wished someone with more of a pro-gun perspective had been on the panel to offer a different perspective.
Alessandro Azzaro, senior at B-CC, said he wished there was an opportunity for people to ask questions to the members of Congress on the stage, adding he would have liked to ask the members of Congress about mental health issues rather than guns as a reason for the recent mass shootings.
“I think it’s more of a mental illness awareness problem and how like people should act with these people who have troubled pasts and need assistance – need people who they can talk to and express themselves to,” he said.