BRUNSWICK — Pearl Stuart, Grace Clendening and Aiden Perkinson said the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, in February affected them deeply because for the first time, they were teenagers at the time of a mass school shooting.

“I’ve always been scared about the possibility of a shooting, but the fact that it was people our own age and that they’ve been so vocal about it really made me very aware of the situation,” said Stuart, a sophomore at Brunswick High School.

“It’s inspiring and it makes us want to become more vocal.”

Stuart, Clendening and Perkinson were among the co-organizers of a town hall on gun violence at Brunswick High Saturday with a panel that included Brunswick Chief of Police Richard Rizzo; State Sen. Brownie Carson and Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick; the town council; and three members of the school board.

The two-hour forum began with a message from Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, read by a representative from King’s Senate office. The junior Maine senator said people don’t have to be elected officials to make a difference, and he offered praise to the students for taking action.

“Your voices have been so articulate and compassionate since the Parkland shooting,” King said.

Clendening, who attended the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., last month, said having the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland so active on social media made it a national issue, and it’s why she became so focused on gun control and having a part in the conversation.

Perkinson also attended the march in the nation’s capital, and despite overwhelming support for their actions among classmates and the community, there have been some at the school who have pushed back against their gun-control agenda.

“The vast majority of students at this school are in favor of red flag laws and background checks, but you won’t find everyone here actually in favor of banning certain types of weapons,” said Perkinson, a junior.
Some of the criticism heaped on student activists in Florida and across the country is that teenagers aren’t old enough to know anything or have certain opinions, but Stuart and Daughtry said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Stuart said it’s especially upsetting because teenagers are at the center of the debate because they are the ones going to these schools and regularly facing the dangers of a mass shooting.

“It’s really annoying for people to think that we’re not having as much of a voice as anybody else, but we’re proving them wrong,” Stuart said.

Daughtry, one of the youngest members of Maine’s Legislature, said seeing the advocacy of the students in Brunswick and around the state has given her more hope about the future than at any other time in her years as a representative.

She said she did a lot work in high school to get students and community members registered to vote, and organized events and walkouts and non-violent protests. She said she remembered people asking why she cared since she wasn’t old enough to vote or telling her she couldn’t have an opinion because she was too young.

“I’m now 31-years-old and I feel my blood pressure rising when I hear that,” Daughtry said during an interview April 6 in Brunswick. “Teenagers are not only proving they have a lot to say, but they are demanding people listen to them, and it’s inspiring.”

Stuart and her classmates, along with Daughtry, agree that for this movement to have any lasting impact, young people, and people in general, have to vote in November and vote into office candidates that support common sense control laws, like funding gun violence research and prevention/intervention programs, universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“At the march in D.C., the emphasis was on getting people to vote, and young kids are being inspired to vote more now and they want to have a say because of how we’re affected,” Clendening said. “It’s good because we haven’t taken advantage of our opportunity to have a say as much as we can.”

Outside of the ballot box, Daughtry said the movement’s impact can be felt when looking at how many people are contacting their local elected officials or are being motivated to run for office. She said she’s had a lot of students reach out about shadowing her at the State House and learning more about the legislative process, all steps to keep the conversation going and moving forward.

“It’s about getting involved and staying involved,” Daughtry said. “It’s a multi-pronged process, and as long as we get people to understand how important it is to be heard, this will continue.”

One way students will continue the conversation, Perkinson said, is to take a greater interest in local government, and he says this movement will inspire more young people to run for office when eligible — which is 21 in Maine.

“Having the opportunity to participate in democracy at this age is setting the stage for them to participate later, and I think that does include running for office,” Perkinson said.

During the forum, the panel spent more than 90 minutes answering audience questions and those submitted beforehand, and there was almost unanimous agreement that common-sense gun control measures are something the state and country have to take.

“There is no need for assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and I see no need for the over-abundance of weapons we have on our streets,” Councilor Stephen Walker said.

Councilor Jane Millett said she thinks gun safety and regulation is a completely non-partisan issue.

The only time there was any debate or disagreement among the panelists is when Councilor David Watson spoke.

“There has never been a firearm ever made that killed anybody,” he said. “It’s always been a person’s mind and their actions.”

That response got muttered hisses among the audience members, but it was his comments about the National Rifle Association that got audible boos.

Responding to a question about the NRA’s influence on the political landscape and the money the organization spends on electing and re-electing candidates to support its agenda, Watson said something many in the audience questioned.

“I don’t think the NRA’s the problem,” Watson said. “They’ve done and do more for gun safety than anybody else.”

School Board member Sarah Singer disagreed with Watson and said he is only thinking about one part of the NRA, the rank-and-file membership that promotes gun safety, teaches training courses and invests in promoting safe ownership of firearms.

But Singer said he’s forgetting the NRA board is made up mostly of gun manufacturers whose only purpose is to sell as many guns as possible.

Daughtry got emotional and had to pause several times in addressing Watson and his comments about the NRA.

She said she’s seen the organization’s lobbyists in action in the State House pushing their agenda and she was sickened at the way some prominent NRA officials verbally attacked — on TV and social media — the student activists and survivors of the Parkland massacre.

“It’s despicable,” she said.

 

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