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 PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level 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 SchakowskyModerate Democrats press for score before vote on Biden package Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over 'dirty' hydrogen provision in climate deal 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.