By Katie Smythe

Rep. Don Beyer, Fred Guttenberg and Rep. Ted Deutch at the Gun Safety Town Hall (Photo: Katie Smythe)

The auditorium at T. C. Williams High School was packed last night for a ‘Conversation on Gun Safety and Safety of U.S. Schools’ organized by U.S. Representative Don Beyer (VA-08), following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Parkland in Congress, also participated.

Special guest was Fred Guttenberg, who’s 14-year-old daughter Jaime was one of 17 killed a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was greeted with a standing ovation. Through the pain and anger of losing his daughter, Guttenberg has moved to activism with a renewed passion that “will not be temporary”. He is primed to take on the gun lobby and pressure the elected officials for gun reform legislation.

T. C. Williams senior Jay Falk, who has been instrumental in organizing student efforts to push for common sense gun laws, urged students to speak out and be part of the national dialogue. Parkland students gave voice to the issue of gun safety and others have joined the push for change. “We won’t go away” became the common rallying cry.

Naomi Wadler and Maxie Maultsby, George Mason fifth graders (Photo: Katie Smythe)

Students, community members, educators and activists spoke at the town-hall style event. Some of the most articulate and passionate calls for gun reform came from students – from elementary school to high school.

Naomi Wadler, a fifth grader at Alexandria’s George Mason Elementary School, stated the obvious: “It is unacceptable to not be safe at school.” She and her classmates tried to organize a walkout but got pushback from the principal and staff because of concern for their safety while outside on the school lawn. She asked, “How we be will be safe in our own classrooms in the world we live in now when it’s okay for someone to walk into a store with an expired ID and buy an assault rifle?”

Most of the comments and questions focused on the need for background checks, gun law banning assault weapons, gun safety measures, conceal carry reciprocity issues, and the availability of data on gun violence. Many expressed concerns about mental health issues and access to available resources.

Rep. Beyer, who has been a vocal advocate for legislation to prevent gun violence, is a lead on the proposed Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, which would help states set up gun violence restraining order laws. He is also an original cosponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban, and cosponsors of bills to expand background checks on firearm purchases and restore CDC funding into research on gun violence.

“What I most want tonight is for people to leave with hope that we can do something, that we can change things for the better,” Beyer said.

Both congressmen encouraged young people to get active, speak up, register to vote, and be sure to vote as a way to push for change. Pressure the legislature for gun reform. Students have given voice to the issues about their safety in school. The momentum is growing across the country.

The last in a long line of speakers was Cody, an Arlington middle school student, who said “I speak for everyone by saying I don’t want to be shot and killed at my school. It is the responsibility of everyone to act and make sure this never happens again.”