Students Push Lawmakers on Gun Control

The Massachusetts Statehouse. (Photo by Ana Goni-Lessan/BU News Service)

By Amanda Kaufman
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was originally published in the Sentinel & Enterprise.

BOSTON — Local legislators were among those on the receiving end of arguments from vocal high school student lobbyists who descended on Beacon Hill Wednesday to advocate for stricter gun control laws.

Students from Boston, Somerville and Andover, among others, voiced their concerns about gun violence before several state legislators, including Fitchburg Democrat Rep. Stephan Hay and Sen. Dean Tran, R-Fitchburg.

Earlier, the students joined a national day of protest when they walked out of their classrooms and held a 17-minute moment of silence to honor the 17 people who died when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a month ago.

The students pressed legislators to pass H.3610, a bill that would establish “extreme risk protective orders,” through which courts could temporarily prohibit an individual from owning a gun if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others.

The legislators in attendance expressed their support for school safety and encouraged the students to continue speaking out on key issues, but not all of them would commit to supporting the legislation introduced by Cambridge Democratic Rep. Marjorie Decker.

“If adults don’t do anything about it we will,” Charlotte Lowell, 17, a senior at Andover High School and an organizer of the walkout, told the crowd. “Students will lead this movement with fire because it is our lives that are at stake.

Students are power, we are voice and speech, advocacy and action, we won’t be ignored and we won’t be silenced.”

Addressing the crowd, Tran told the students he would be “first in line to make sure that the schools you attend are safe for you to learn in.”

After the meeting, Tran said he is withholding judgment on the “divisive” legislation until a final version reaches his desk, but expressed concerns over infringing on due process.

“I strongly believe there’s no place for violence in schools,” Tran said. “But once you take away someone’s rights to do something or to own something, it’s very difficult to bring those rights back.”

Tran said he felt the students were excluding from the conversation other factors that drive individuals to commit mass atrocities, such as mental health and a changing American culture.

“There’s one missing component that I haven’t heard the students express and that is how the perpetrator gets to the point where he or she committed the unbelievable act of violence,” Tran said. “We have to look at the entire picture, and that picture has to do with who committed the crime, why the person committed the crime and the location of the crime that took place.”

Hay told students at the meeting, “I’d like to thank you for bringing your voices to your Statehouse today. I am humbled and enthused by what I saw here today and the words that have been spoken and I just want you to know as a legislator, I have your back.”

A legislative aide for Hay confirmed his support for the passage of the bill.

Other legislators in attendance who pledged to support the legislation include Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, Rep. Kevin Honan, D-Boston, and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, of Boston, chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Education.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rated Massachusetts as having the fourth strongest gun laws in the country for its ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and the state’s efforts to restrict the sale of guns to the mentally ill. In 2017, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the sale of bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to simulate automatic fire.

The bill is currently before the Legislature’s Committee on Public Safety and has until April 15 to move forward.

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