Sixth and seventh graders at Lagunitas Middle School, distraught after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting last month, were encouraged by their teachers to research gun laws and email elected officials expressing their discontent. The students advocated for stricter laws, specifically background checks and adjusting age restrictions, and wanted to know what type of action their political leaders could take. Last Thursday, one of those officials responded in person.
Congressman Jared Huffman entered the Lagunitas School gymnasium to enthusiastic applause from middle and elder elementary students. With 30 minutes on the clock, he wanted to know how they felt about school safety and what they wanted elected leaders to do to counteract violence in schools.
“We’re at a moment in this county where we may have an opportunity to push changes we didn’t think were possible a few weeks ago,” Rep. Huffman said. “The difference is not what happened in that terrible mass shooting. The difference is how young people responded to it. There’s something about the way your generation is carrying itself in this national conversation; we might just have a chance to bring about change.”
After a short talk, he fielded questions from students. One asked how California gun laws differed from national laws (“We have the best gun laws and it’s a model for the rest of the county,” Rep. Huffman explained) and another wanted to know if he had received money from the National Rifle Association. Rep. Huffman was well prepared to answer: “I haven’t,” he said. “I encourage you to get good grades, and an F is a bad thing but I’m proud of my F from the N.R.A.”
One boy inquired about mental health, referencing the Florida shooter who had shown signs of concern. “There were failures at a whole bunch of levels,” Rep. Huffman said. “We encourage ‘See something, say something.’ But in this case, some people did and it didn’t work. We want to keep talking about the gun part of this as well as mental health. Social isolation is important. It’s really important not to isolate your classmates. Don’t let a classmate eat alone. Reach out to those kids.”
Regarding the Second Amendment, Rep. Huffman said it’s been broadly interpreted and should not guarantee access to an assault weapon. He said he supports a ban on weapons such as the AR-15-style rifle and will push for more rigorous background checks.
One student pressed back on Rep. Huffman, explaining that most mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. His comment echoed President Trump’s insertion that gun-free zones invite shooters because they mean the area is defenseless.
“The problem is that there was a gun at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Rep. Huffman responded.
As the talk wound down, Rep. Huffman offered a window into the politics of stagnation. “Sometimes the leader in the House and Senate won’t let you vote on some issues,” he said. “One reason I’m here in the San Geronimo Valley today and not in Washington is that Speaker Paul Ryan sent Congress home. One reason is because of the response that young people are putting on officials to take action. He was feeling heat, and let’s keep up the pressure.”