Parkland Students Push Gun-Control Agenda in Massachusetts

As the country approaches one of the largest gun-control related protests in recent memory—March For Our Lives is scheduled to take place nationwide on Saturday—the high school that sparked the current fervor over the issue, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), has chosen Massachusetts as a place to continue pushing its gun-control related agenda, just as the state enters an interesting political stretch in the lead-up to the 2018 elections this November.

MSD alumni in the New England area are banding together to try to make a difference, specifically ramping up their efforts this week. Dubbed Eagle Pride Week, the seven-day stretch has been home to five alumni-centric events. The first initiative commenced on Monday night at Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville: House representative and Somerville resident Michael Capuano spoke, along with state representative Marjorie Decker, Northeastern professor Matthew Miller, and Angus McQuilken, co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

An audience of around 100 alumni packed the back room of the bar to listen to the administrators discuss gun-control in Massachusetts and how the issue differs at the national level. McQuilken discussed how Massachusetts gun laws need to be improved, beginning with a bill introduced to the state house floor by Decker called the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO). The Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), an official state-affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA), is vehemently against ERPO.

The bill would allow people to report to a judge that a person they live with who owns a gun is a danger not only to those around him but also to himself. If the judge agrees, the gun owner would lose his weapon, ammunition, and license for up to a year.

Decker has been subjected to harassment on social media in response to her sponsorship of the legislation, receiving death threats on her Facebook page. GOAL’s executive director, Jim Wallace, told New England Cable News (NECN) that the organization is not responsible for the harassment. Wallace mentioned that GOAL, too, has had to deal with social media “brutality.”

That brutality came up again later on in the Somerville meet-up. Erin Helm, a 2008 MSD graduate, noted that when she posted about the event on Reddit, she had to delete her original post due to the outpouring of abuse leveled at her. Here, Capuano chimed in, saying that part of the difficulty when it comes to discussing guns is that both sides of the issue are extremely polarized.

One of Decker’s chief concerns in regards to the threats is not about her—it’s trying to explain the situation to her children. Decker revealed to the audience that she had talked to their pediatrician about how best to approach educating her kids on how to process the threats. Her story ended with the doctor appealing to the lawmaker to stay committed to the bill and not to let up despite the potential danger, since, as McQuilken emphasized later, “Lives are on the line.”

Capuano has been in politics since 1976 and emphasized that in his experience, the people that don’t feel so passionately about either side of an issue are the ones advocates need to interact with. Gun-control legislation is historically notorious for being difficult to pass into law, since the two sides arguing over the issue have never been able to find a compromise. There is an extraordinary amount of vitriol online over the issue, as evidenced by Decker and Helm’s experiences. To Capuano, the key is not to be dismayed by those experiences, but to stay focused on the cause.

The long time representative is in an interesting political moment of his own. Part of his message to this audience was how important it is for voters to come out to try to make an impact in 2018’s midterm elections. Capuano is projected to be in a race of his own, as he’s being challenged in the primary by Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, and a Boston Globe article from earlier this month notes that “both Massachusetts senators [Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey] are declining to back [the] 10-term incumbent.”

In regards to the issue of gun control at a national level, Capuano expressed his belief that perhaps for the first time, Congress has a chance to implement universal background checks, an issue the NRA has reiterated its opposition to on multiple occasions—including after the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The battle will probably come down to how committed constituents like the Stoneman Douglas Alumni are to advocating for new legislation, since the NRA is such a powerful lobby.

Capuano made it clear that in his opinion, the worst thing to do is to threaten anybody over the issue. Being a part of allowing the gun conversation to devolve into threats online does neither side of the issue any good, since constructive conversations cannot come out of such action. He said that if alumni want an example on how to push their advocacy forward, they should look to the current students who spoke at Harvard on Tuesday and are working to create change.

Events continued to happen for the rest of Eagle Pride Week: On Tuesday, while the students spoke at Harvard, MSD alumni held a policy workshop for interested students in Brookline. On Wednesday, there was an event where parents could learn about how to speak to their children about gun violence. Eagle Pride Week culminates with the march, taking place a little over a month after the MSD tragedy, a little over a week since the nationwide school walkouts, and less than a week after the shooting that took place at Great Mills High School in Maryland.

Meanwhile, back home, a Dorchester resident was arrested for illegally possessing “an assault rifle and high-capacity magazines containing more than 350 rounds of ammunition,” according to a Globe article, leading Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans to say, “There is no need for any citizen in the city of Boston to be carrying high powered weapons of this kind, and there are just too many of these guns out there.” On the same day, a study revealed that a 2014 bill that passed on the back of being a “tough on guns” bill has not had the desired effect. One day later, the Globe released an editorial asking for tougher gun laws nationwide just as Robert Kraft loaned Parkland families the New England Patriots team plane for the flight up to D.C. for Saturday’s March.

Perhaps a casual observer would not have thought the gun-control debate would make it to what is considered a dark-blue state—in reality, the issue holds an important place in the greater political spectrum surrounding Massachusetts politics, both at a state and national level.

Featured Image by Jack Goldman / Heights Editor

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Jack Goldman is a copy editor and writer for The Heights. He's from a tiny Boston suburb nobody cares about, and yet he is proud of it for some reason. He is relatively insane and extremely long-winded, but thanks you for reading. Don't follow him on Twitter @the_manofgold but do email him: [email protected]