Students press Congress for action on guns

Students press Congress for action on guns
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A group of young students stormed Capitol Hill this week to press Congress to take immediate action on gun reform following a series of deadly mass shootings at schools around the country.

Speaking to roughly 50 House Democrats on Wednesday at the Capitol, the students — some of whom are survivors of recent school violence — made their case that current law makes them vulnerable to future shootings and congressional inaction makes lawmakers complicit. 

“There is so much that Congress could be doing to curb the senseless violence, yet the powers that be will not even allow this conversation to be had on the House or Senate floor,” said Daniel Gelillo, a senior at Maryland’s Richard Montgomery High School. 


“This should not be a political issue,” he added. “Bullets do not discriminate.”

“We have to act now because tomorrow isn’t promised,” echoed Malachi Dunn, an 11th grader at Hallandale Magnet High School in south Florida.

The students were speaking to a friendly audience. A number of Democrats have been pressing for years for tougher guns laws, amplifying their calls in the wake of mass shootings at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February, and another last week in Sante Fe, Texas. 

Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, have so far refused the entreaties, arguing that gun violence is largely a function of holes in school security and mental health treatment, not an absence of tougher gun restrictions, which they deem an infringement on Second Amendment rights.

Those divergent views were on full display at Wednesday’s gun forum in the Capitol basement, where no Republicans joined the discussion. The dynamic created a one-sided conversation in which Democrats urged absent GOP leaders for immediate action. 

“You call for thoughts and prayers. Call a hearing!” said House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVoters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus MORE (D-Calif.). 

For years, the fight for tougher gun laws was seen as the third rail of national politics, one that would alienate voters in crucial swing districts, leaving even Democratic leaders shying away from the issue in the name of political pragmatism. When Pelosi held the Speaker’s gavel in 2010, she deflected requests from Judiciary Committee Democrats to hold hearings on expanded background checks citing a lack of support in the Senate.

The rash of high-profile school shootings in recent months has changed the party’s calculus. Emboldened by student protests around the country — a movement largely sparked by the Parkland massacre — Democrats now consider gun reform to be a winning campaign issue. And they used Wednesday’s forum to push the students to focus their energies to fight for reform-minded candidates in November’s midterms.

“Your voices, your marching in the street or in the classroom, your getting your friends to vote and holding people accountable — that’s what it’s going to take,” said Rep. Elizabeth EstyElizabeth Henderson EstyConnecticut elects first black congresswoman Former aides alleging sexual harassment on Capitol Hill urge congressional action Rising Dem star in Connecticut says people like me ‘deserve a seat at the table’ in Congress MORE (D-Conn.), who represents Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 first graders were killed in 2012.

“Young people led to the end of the Vietnam War. Young people ensured we had civil rights in this country. ... And I have more faith than I’ve had in the five-and-a-half years since Sandy Hook that this will change. And it’s going to change because of you.”

The students urged a series of specific reforms for Congress to tackle, including expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons sales. And while the issue is largely partisan, some of the students also had sharp words for some Democratic policies.

Taylore Norwood, a senior at  King High School in Chicago, went after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, once a prominent leader on Pelosi’s House team, for proposing to close a number of schools in the city while seeking $95 million to launch a new police academy.

“There are schools that don’t have textbooks, updated technology, things of that nature,”  Norwood said, responding to a question from Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyPelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Hillicon Valley: Facebook to label posts if candidates prematurely declare victory | Supreme Court hears landmark B Google, Oracle copyright fight | House Dem accuses Ratcliffe of politicizing election security intel MORE (D-Ill.), who represents parts of Chicago. “But we’re spending $95 million on police officers, and they’re not helping — at all.”

Schakowsky vowed to work with other area lawmakers to address those concerns.