Students organize gun control town hall

Students organize gun control town hall

Mary Lynn Tracy (11) stood before the half-filled audience of curious students and adults seated in Westview’s theatre. Her face stoic, she revealed the heavy backpack she’d been carrying. Without a word, she poured the contents of the bag onto a table.

Thousands upon thousands of granules of rice came gushing out to cover the entirety of the table and spill onto the floor.

“Each piece of rice represents a single life lost due to gun violence,” she finally said, microphone in hand. The sound of the rice resembled static noise as it tumbled out of her bag and pervaded the room.

Tracy turned around, leaving the rice where it was, and went behind the podium. She explained the importance of the Never Again movement while emphasizing why she felt it was important to be a part of it.

“No matter what I do or say, I’m not acknowledged,” Tracy said. “[But] my age is what makes me strong.”

After only a week of planning, students from across the Poway Unified School District assembled to orchestrate one of the 100 town halls on gun control that took place April 7 nationwide.

Yarah Feteih (11) and Ava Nebel (11), among them, met with Principal Tina Ziegler several times to help reserve the venue, as well as get in contact with other schools.

“Even though our representative consistently votes in favor of gun control, the reason we hosted the town hall was just a matter of the importance of numbers,” Nebel said. “We want politicians from all over to look back at the many town halls occurring across our nation and take us seriously and take our voices into consideration.”

Place cards with the names of politicians attending were displayed alongside yellow ribbons and water bottles. Though the audience only trickled in at first, Feteih noticed the diversity of thought.

“We live in a predominantly white area and I know there are a lot of people from across the aisle so to see everyone come together for this [issue] is amazing to see,” Feteih said.

And though the town hall was a branch of the larger Never Again movement that sought to hold politicians accountable, that was not their main objective.

“Our main goal was to inform people about gun control, not to make up their minds and I think a lot of people did walk away knowing more about the issue than they did before,” Nebel said.

Set to speak were two Democratic congressional candidates, Ammar Campa-Najjar and Josh Butner, candidates for the 50th district as well as the congressional representative for the 52nd district, Scott Peters.

The lights dimmed, and Hannah Williams, a senior at Poway High School, took to the podium onstage. She asked for a moment of silence in honor of the Parkland victims before calling for action, for “today is the day,” she said. “That we discuss this [issue] as Americans, not Republicans or Democrats.”

Williams would set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, toeing the line between frustration and hope while behind her sat Peters, Ammar Campa-Najjar, and Butner along with various students as well.

“Massacre after massacre, we thought something would happen and then nothing did,” Peters said. “And along came Parkland. The engagement of young people is and has always been difficult [but] the voting attitude of current teens will be transformative.”

When Campa-Najjar stepped up to the podium he explained that he was running to inspire young people but he found himself instead inspired by young people. His platform on gun control surrounds the idea of “asking for common sense, common values, common interest.”

Next up went Butner, who answered a student’s question about the cause of school shootings as being a result of “stress” and further “dissociation amplified by social media.” He found fault with the ratio of students to counselors, noting that as a member of the Jamul-Dulzura Union School Board of Education, he saw firsthand that teachers were the ones really counseling students.

For the next few hours, students had a chance to speak their minds and adults had a chance to listen. Questions from students in the audience as well as students on stage were directed at the political attendees about their stances on all aspects of the gun control issue. What causes school shootings? How can we make schools safer?