Student Hosts Forum on Gun Violence

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by Anna Young – 

With mass shootings a recurring incident nationwide, an Irvington High School student hosted a special gathering at the Irvington Town Hall Theater on May 23 to discuss measures that would put an end to the rash of gun violence and mass shootings in schools.

Sophomore Sam Roth organized the action-fueled symposium after he was awarded a grant from the Irvington Education Foundation’s Innovation Fund. The organization encourages students to submit ideas for creative, entrepreneurial or enrichment initiatives.

While Roth’s pitch for an educationally stimulating forum was approved, tragedy hit home for him when he learned a family friend’s daughter was one of 17 people killed at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on February 14.

“I always thought gun violence was something that was around, but when it hits a community like that I knew that something was seriously wrong. And there has been something seriously wrong; we can’t deny that,” Roth said at the event. “We have the power to be safe walking home, and it’s not only our human right but it’s something that’s been stripped of us, and we need to get that back as Americans.”

Roth said his goal for the forum, which garnered an array of students, parents, law enforcement officials and elected officials, was to fight for stricter gun laws in hopes of making society a less violent place. He stressed that legislation needs to enforce universal background checks to ensure guns are in the right hands and laws that require guns to remain locked and put away.

“Students are using a gun that’s owned by a family member so that gun is not locked up,” Roth said. “So, it’s not even that the guns are bought by the wrong person, it’s that we’re in an environment where people feel so aloof with something that can end someone’s life, and we’re also in a society where we feel committed to the second amendment.”

With the National Rifle Association (NRA) influencing gun use and politicians at a standstill, Roth said voting will effectively change the culture surrounding gun violence.

“If we go out and vote, that’s something that we can change; that’s the only way we’re going to change things,” he said. “And if we do that, our generation will be able to end this gun epidemic.”

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) also encouraged people to vote, asserting the significance of choosing representatives that will exemplify the issues that are most important to a community. She shared her frustration that little has been done at the state level to enact common sense gun laws and rid society from the “disease” of gun violence.

Stewart-Cousins praised youngsters for fighting for a better and safer world and refusing to sit on the sidelines as people nationwide continue to die.

“This is a fight that shouldn’t be a fight,” she said.

Howie Stern, a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, thought the Columbine High School massacre would start a movement. While he was moved to tears naming other instances of mass shootings that didn’t incite a revolution for change, he said the Parkland tragedy has ignited a movement filled with passion and determination that he has never seen before.

Irvington Mayor Brian Smith explained that while he’s a licensed gun owner and a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he wants to see common sense gun legislation enacted. While he’s optimistic acts of gun violence will eventually decrease due to the surge of student led movements, he admitted much more needs to be done.

“Our lack of dialogue on the issue of gun violence is both tragic and ironic when we consider the scope of the problem,” Smith said. “So far, we’ve been fortunate in Irvington, but we must remain diligent, tireless, creative in our never-ending endeavor to prevent and stop gun violence here.”

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