Momentum from the March For Our Lives protest in Washington D.C. and around the world led to the organization of Town Hall For Our Lives, a movement with more than 200 town halls throughout the nation where citizens continue to meet with their representative in order to discuss gun reform.
The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas hosted a town hall with Congressman Ted Deutch at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts on Mar. 3. Representatives from all levels of government were present and ready to offer answers or solutions to concerns of citizens.
Natasha Knutson, who attended the event with her two daughters, said that although it was inconvenient to bring her kids, it was something that needed to be done. Her babysitter’s significant other was injured in the shooting, so Knutson felt it was insensitive to call them to work.
When her 7-year-old daughter, Kierra, was asked what she thought the solution was to stopping school shootings, she answered, “Vote them out.”
The orchestra floor of the arts center was at capacity and some attendees were forced to stand.
“We’re here because it is an issue that has not gone away,” said Deutch when he began the town hall. He said that the focus should not only be on common sense gun laws but new school safety measures and mental health.
Deutch also said that it is important to recognize that these issues are bipartisan.
Shortly after his speech, the floor was opened to questions. Priority was given to MSD students and those related to the victims of the shooting.
Several MSD students expressed their concern over recent clear backpack regulation.
Leonor Munoz, a MSD senior, reminded the representatives of the psychological trauma that the students are still enduring.
“For many of us, it has been very difficult to deal with the trauma, PTSD and the depression,” said Munoz. “And it seems like every day I go to school there’s less and less help.”
Gregory Pittman, an American history teacher at MSD, expressed similar concerns. He emphasized teachers also need help.
On several occasions the power of Twitter was acknowledged. Deutch suggested that the crowd tweet at Speaker Paul Ryan, who was not present at the meeting, to allow the House to vote on universal background checks for gun purchases. Most of the audience seemed to participate, including Knutson, who interrupted her younger daughter’s YouTube video to do so.
Protest leader David Hogg, one of the students at the front of the Never Again movement, gave the crowd Broward County Superintendent Ronald Runcie’s twitter handle so they could ask him why he was not present.
Runcie was overseeing a county school board meeting at the time of the town hall event.
Author and Marine Vietnam Veteran for Peace member David DeChant said he was proud of the students that have acted.
“Seeing so many young people is incredible,” he said. “They understand people power.”
Due to the large turnout, there was not enough time to answer every question attendees had. Deutch promised to answer remaining questions outside after people exited the building.
Next month, he said, there would be another town hall.
Senior Angela Lazo used her time for questioning to speak directly to the crowd. She spoke of her concerns that her peers’ demands were not being heard.
“Radicals don’t want to listen,” the MDS student said, referring to counter-protestors. “They won’t listen to our ideas.”
Shortly after the town hall concluded, a couple of counter-protestors wearing “Make America Great Again” merchandise yelled at Lazo for her comments.
Diego Vasquez and his daughter, Valeria, a Coral Gables High School student, overheard the argument and laughed it off.
The counter-protestors, they said, were calling gun reform laws communistic.
While many attendees said the town hall was a success, some students expressed hope that media coverage continues so they’re heard.
“This can’t be another sensationalized tragedy that’s gone by the next news cycle,” Munoz said. “I hope the media covers our journey to change thoroughly and accurately.”
Munoz said she never imagined she’d become involved in politics at such a young age. In the aftermath of the MSD shooting, she appeared to be in a state of shock and denial. Now, seven weeks later, she seemed to have processed what had happened.
“I didn’t want to do any of this,” she said. “I want to go back to this not affecting me. But it affects all of us, and the adults aren’t doing enough.”