Anxious students question Sen. Casey at Cheltenham town hall on guns

U.S. Senator Bob Casey visited students at Cheltenham High School, March 2, 2018.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey visited students at Cheltenham High School Friday. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

An anxious energy greeted U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Friday as he addressed hundreds of teenagers at a town hall on gun violence.

Students at Cheltenham High School just north of Philadelphia asked Casey sharp, sometimes confrontational, questions about Congress’ inaction on gun control. The first student to question Casey called out his past opposition to gun regulation.

After the 2012 shooting of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Casey said, he changed his position.

“I had to say to myself, ‘Is there nothing, is there nothing, the most powerful nation in the history of the human race can do to reduce the likelihood we’ll have another school shooting?’” Casey said before a packed auditorium.

Pennsylvania’s senior senator now supports expanded background checks, a ban on “military-style assault weapons,” and funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence, among other measures.

During the 40-minute town hall, Casey did not receive any questions from students who appeared to oppose gun-control measures. Most pushed the him to explain why he and his colleagues hadn’t yet done more to quell gun violence.

“We have to arm ourselves with microphones and shield ourselves with knowledge because the people in power have not fought hard enough for change,” said junior Celeste Greene.

Casey suggested Washington was gridlocked on the issue and that change would have to come from the grassroots. He said student-led outrage after the recent shooting incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has created a noticeable shift in the gun debate. He admitted, though, he doesn’t know how far the debate has shifted or if it will result in any meaningful change.

“And all I can say to you is keep going, keep fighting, keep marching, keep mobilizing,” Casey said.

Cheltenham is one of several area schools that had safety scares after the Parkland shooting. Earlier this week, township police arrested two students accused of threatening the school community on social media.

That incident was top of mind Friday, with students taking repeated jabs at administrators for a perceived lack of safety. The school’s principal stayed behind after the Casey town hall to field questions from angry students. The session ended abruptly when the school lost power due to the nor’easter.

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