Personal Stories of Gun Violence Shared at Rockville Town Hall: Hundreds turn out looking for state, local answers on gun control and violence
Credit: Bethesda Beat, Dan Schere
One day after a fatal school shooting in Colorado, more than 370 people packed the cafeteria at Earle B. Wood Middle School Wednesday night to hear from federal and local lawmakers about efforts to stem gun violence.
The town hall style meeting outside Rockville was staged by U.S. Rep. David Trone and included comments from Rep. Lucy McBath, a newly elected Georgia Democrat, who recounted the death of her 17-year-old son who was shot in 2012 following an altercation at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida.
“There are no safe spaces in the country anymore … we are living in a climate that has become so extremist. As my colleague said, this is a national public health crisis,” she said.
McBath was joined on a panel by state Del. Lesley Lopez, a Democrat who represents parts of Germantown and Montgomery Village, and Nate Tinbite, a John F. Kennedy High School junior who was elected as the next student representative to the Board of Education last month.
Tinbite discussed his recent activism on gun violence, including a leadership role in student walkouts to Capitol Hill with the group MoCo for Change. He said the most powerful stories he’s heard from fellow students come from those who say they don’t feel safe in school.
“When I was at my friend’s house, we heard gunshots in the near distance. And when I asked him about it, he said, ‘it’s normal,’” Tinbite said.
Lopez said she survived a school shooting when she was in elementary school in San Bernardino, California, after a man in a neighboring apartment complex began shooting at her classmates. One student, she said, was seriously injured.
“I remember looking out on the playground and seeing a bunch of my classmates just running. Just helplessly, hopelessly running. And that’s what I think about as a legislator. No child should feel that way,” she said.
Lopez, a freshman member of the legislature, chaired a working group this past session on gun legislation.
During Wednesday’s forum, she was asked by Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara, a journalist who was one of five killed last year at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, why legislation failed this year that would have instituted background checks for private sales of long guns.
Lopez said the bill passed the House of Delegates but ultimately failed in the Senate because it was not prioritized by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat and chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“We knew it was going to have a tough time in the Senate,” she said.
Lopez also said that in Maryland, gun violence is often wrongly perceived as a “Baltimore City issue” that doesn’t exist in other parts of the state. But last year’s shootings at the Capital Gazette and at a high school in St. Mary’s County disprove that.
At the federal level, Trone touted the House’s passage of a bill that would institute universal background checks for the first time in 25 years. However, in an interview, Trone said he was not optimistic about its chances to become law, despite his claim that 85% to 90% of Americans would support it.
“I’m afraid it’s going to go to the Senate graveyard. We need different leadership in the Senate, and the president won’t support it either,” said Trone, whose congressional district includes parts of northern Montgomery County and Western Maryland,.