Congresswoman holds forum on gun violence

May 30, 2018 — by Sandhya Sundaram
Photo by Sandhya Sundaram

Students gather for a picture with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (fourth from left)

Students from Saratoga High, Lynbrook High, Westmont High and some local middle schools gathered on May 20 in the school’s library for a forum on firearm safety hosted by Saratoga Vice Mayor Manny Cappello, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Westhope Presbyterian pastor Erik Swanson. The politicians wanted to hear student perspectives, while students learned about what happens behind the scenes in politics.

The roughly 20 students, who were invited by assistant principal Brian Safine because of their involvement with the March For Our Lives movement, were presented the opportunity to ask the speakers questions regarding mental health system improvements, legislation on background checks and other potential solutions.

Swanson organized the event in hopes that people could feel safer in their communities, schools and churches.

“The original goal was to make contact with people who I thought could make a difference in the political spectrum,” Swanson said. “My continued goal now is to follow through now to make them make a difference.”

Senior Ania Kranz opened the forum by saying that the National Rifle Association has a huge influence on legislation and politicians because of its huge support from citizens and ample funding. Kranz asked if there was “a better way to appeal to politicians.”

Eshoo said that in order to change legislation, new Congress members who support gun control must be elected in the upcoming election of 2020. She stressed that the point is not to take the rights given by the Second Amendment away, but to have stricter regulations for who can possess weapons.

A student from Lynbrook mentioned that Americans should model their attitudes toward gun ownership after Australia’s. According to TIME, after a single shooting incident in 1998, with 35 fatalities on a resort in Tasmania, Australians, including gun owners, supported stricter licensing of guns and regulations. Just 12 days later, a bipartisan effort was made to change gun policies including a large buyback of semi-automatic weapons, the prohibition of private gun sales, and the new rule that gun owners provide a reason for their possession of their weapon. Since then, these efforts have resulted in a 59 percent reduction in gun violence in the country.

In contrast, after the recent Santa Fe shooting, Americans have continued making remarks like “guns aren’t the problem,” while no significant gun legislation has been approved by Congress in two decades.

Cappello and Eshoo both emphasized that “weapons of war” like AK 47s do not need to be in the hands of people who say they need guns for hunting or for protection.

Within Saratoga itself, Cappello recommended that students attend Saratoga City Council meetings, saying that student attendance would be most impactful because youth perspectives are not often heard. The next meeting will be on June 6, at 7 p.m. in the City Hall.

Safine also mentioned that with social media, students have enormous influence that politicians cannot ignore, as seen by the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting earlier this year.

Sophomore Anika Prasad attended the forum after participating in prior marches against gun violence. Prasad said that it was a great opportunity for her to have her questions addressed.

“It’s hard to feel like your voice is being heard when you do these walkouts,” Prasad said. “But when someone from Congress is willing to come to your community, talk and listen to what you have to say, that’s when you feel like your voice is actually being heard.”

Eshoo said that conversations with students are important as part of the journey to bettering the country.

“I didn’t like giving some of the answers that I did,” Eshoo said. “Because they point to failures in our system in our government and that’s not a source of pride to me.”

“You all inspire me,” Eshoo said. “Your voices are critical to the betterment of our country. It’s your country, your future, and the power that you’re exercising right now community by community, school by school is having an effect.”

 

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