CHESHIRE — Local high school students grilled U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, about school safety and gun violence Monday in the Cheshire High School auditorium.
”As you know, there are many viewpoints on this topic,” said junior Lexi Kaider, a member of the school’s Young Republicans. “How do you balance these different views when voting for bills in Congress?”
Esty, who is vice chairwoman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, replied that she listens to all viewpoints and researches best practices to prevent school shootings, such as the one in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and adults dead in February.
“If there is anything that is good that comes out of this shooting in Parkland ... it is the energy and involvement of students,” Esty said. “These are the students who say ‘I think we can do better and do differently.’ There’s a lot we can do.”
The congresswoman represents a significant portion of Connecticut, including her hometown of Cheshire, Meriden and Newtown, where 20 children and six educators were killed in a school shooting in 2012.
Monday’s event was organized in response to the Florida shooting. Several hundred Cheshire High School students joined peers across the country in a school walkout to protest gun violence last week.
The majority of students at Wednesday’s walkout spoke out in support of gun control. Much of that sentiment was apparent Monday, but the questions were more nuance and centered on mental health and privacy issues, as well as arming teachers. Some expressed concerns about local social media backlash against the walkout.
“On social media, specifically the Cheshire forum on Facebook, I’ve noticed some backlash and negative discussion coming from parents and adults directed at the high school students,” said sophomore Lindsey McCoy. “How do we address this situation and promote a more positive dialogue within our community?”
“The question is ‘how do we use social media responsibly?’” Esty said. “Constructive engagement comes from people willing to put their name on it. It’s a challenge and we shouldn’t paper over our differences. When it comes to policy decisions we should say what are we trying to achieve.”
Esty helped draft the Stop School Violence Act, which passed in the House of Representatives last week with the help of Sandy Hook parents who researched initiatives to recognize and treat struggling students. The bill helps schools find resources to implement programs in their districts. The bill, which contained no new gun laws, received overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans.
It was the first legislation that address gun violence passed in the House in five years, Esty said.
“We have to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run,” she said.
Esty does not support banning guns for responsible gun owners, and added that she feels the Second Amendment was not designed to equip a militia to combat our own government.
“We can agree, and the Supreme Court has upheld this, that the Second Amendment is not unlimited and we do have the right to protect ourselves from people who are dangerous,” Esty said, adding that military style weapons should not be available to the general public.
Students stopped the war in Vietnam, students helped end apartheid in South Africa, Esty said. She encouraged the students to partner with those who hold opposing viewpoints, consider volunteering on boards and commissions and practice democracy.
“There are a lot of sensible things we can do on the gun safety and mental health issues,” Esty said. “We’re gathering more information on what does and doesn’t work.”
Esty does not support arming teachers, because the research doesn’t support it, she said.
“There are things we can and should be doing to make schools safer, but we don’t want to be living in prisons,” Esty said.
She also strongly advocates allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do federally funded research on gun violence.
“We’re going to have better research, and better gun-safety technology,” she said. “That is now hampered because it is prohibited at the federal level.”
Also on Monday, U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., spoke on the floor of the Senate to lay out a plan to bring the “Fix NICS” act to the Senate floor and allow for open debate and votes on three amendments offered by each party. The Fix NICS act would ensure federal and state authorities would comply with existing law and report relevant criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.