Portland high school students lead gun control town hall

Legislators and students discuss “common-sense” gun laws, voting

Roughly 300 people, the majority of whom were middle school and high school students, filled the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom at Portland State on the evening of April 4 to have a non-partisan discourse on gun legislation and school safety.

The town hall meeting, named #EnoughIsEnough, was led and organized entirely by a group of eight students from the Oregon Episcopal School. Organizers attempted to give young people the chance to speak and ask questions directly to a handful of Oregon elected representatives, as well as to police officers who attended the event.

Panelists included Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Sen. Mark Hass (D-Ore.), Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, and aides for Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

“Our initial inspiration for organizing this event lay in our desire for hosting a non-partisan conversation regarding gun legislation and school safety,” stated OES student organizer Simran Jhooty in an email. “Along with the discourse segment of our event, we also wanted to ensure that there were plenty of opportunities for people to take action and become involved with various local and national organizations concerned with gun legislation. Furthermore, we wanted to host an event that was entirely student-run and which placed an emphasis on the questions and activism of young people.”

The first guest speaker, PSU senior Joshua Friedlein, was a student at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. when a student killed 10 people and injured seven on Oct. 1, 2015 in  the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon’s history. Friedlein described the events that took place that day, but also discussed the lifelong challenges survivors of gun violence experience including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and an increased risk of suicide.

“Never again will survivors of gun violence be able to feel normal,” Friedlein said. “Never again will students who experienced gun violence in their classrooms be able to learn and live like they were prior to that event.”

The panel also discussed its definition of common-sense gun laws, which included implementing more thorough background checks while closing private sales loopholes and properly reporting domestic violence charges. Speakers also discussed creating legislation that makes assault weapons and what they called weapons of war illegal, banning bump stocks and implementing more thorough background checks.

Oregon law requires that a person be 18 years old to purchase a firearm. Federal law states an 18-year-old can purchase only a long gun and must be at least 21 to buy a handgun.

Some states and cities, including Washington, have recently banned bump stocks, while Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently signed a bill to prohibit domestic abusers from owning guns. Retail companies including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Recreational Equipment, Inc. have either raised the minimum age for firearm purchase to 21, cut ties with companies that sell guns or discontinued the sale of assault-style rifles.

Blumenauer added that because states with stricter gun safety provisions experience fewer gun deaths, he believes all political sides have interest in common-sense gun laws, including gun owners, republicans and members of the National Rifle Association. According to a 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association study, states that have enacted stricter gun safety provisions experience fewer gun deaths, while states with more permissive laws experience more murders and examples of gun violence.

Blumenauer has been rated “F” by the NRA following his comprehensive plan to improve gun safety and has repeatedly voted for gun control.

During the last hour of the meeting, students asked panel members what actions they or the senators they represented planned to take to make schools and communities safer.

“In Florida, [young people] were able to face down the politicians, and be able to enact something that two months ago was inconceivable,” Blumenauer said. “I would hope that that example that you have seen in Florida and we are seeing here in this auditorium this evening continues. What we need to do is have a political change…There are consequences for inaction.”

Blumenauer, like participants in last month’s nationwide March for Our Lives demonstrations, also encouraged the audience to vote for common-sense gun laws. “If you find just not your voice, but the ballot box,” Blumenauer said, “I think it’ll make profound changes.”