New Castle, Delaware hosted a packed town hall style meeting Saturday with Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester about gun violence and gun policy. But everyone was there because of Avery Jones, a senior at William Penn High School. She says she started advocating for gun control online after the 2012 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but this town hall was her first attempt at a public meeting.
“This was all so last minute, I was kind of afraid that no one would show up,” said Jones with a laugh. The crowd that showed up at 9 a.m. at New Castle’s public safety office was not one-sided. Students, teachers, hunters, and veterans all voiced their concerns.
Kevin Mullery is an engineer who favors a ban on high-velocity assault-style weapons. He came by with his wife “only to learn a little bit more about why it’s so difficult to get some legislation passed even though a tremendous majority of folks are interested in having laws passed.”
Paul Johnson is a vet who opposes such a ban. “Banning them will not stop any shootings in schools,” said Johnson to some applause.
The rulings of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on the Second Amendment in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller were often cited, by people with opposing views. Sherry Marsico rebutted Johnson with her interpretation of Scalia. “You cannot have whatever gun you want, carry it wherever you want and do whatever you want with it. All of our rights have certain limitations,” she said.
Topics brought up by adults in the audience included the constitutionality of proposed gun laws; the failures of the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System); and allocating funds for the CDC to study effects of gun violence. The CDC has studied the issue in Wilmington as homicide numbers there climbed.
Students in the crowd tended to bring up how guns — and pushes to reduce gun violence — affect their lives.
“There are 2,000 kids that go to my school. We don’t have time to be going through metal detectors every morning,” said Jones to the room.
Other students brought up the need for more and better-integrated mental health care in Delaware schools, and pressed their representatives for dates on when legislation they support will be presented in Congress.
When given the floor, Carper and Rochester preached “common sense” positions on gun legislation. “For the past 20 or so years there’s been basically a ban on research that would advocate for gun control. I’m concerned about that because how do we make good decisions?” said Rochester, who wants federal money to return to the research. Carper also pointed to the success of gun buy-back programs in Wilmington as a possible solution.
Rochester has co-sponsored bills that strengthen background checks and ban high-velocity assault-style weapons. When a constituent pointed out that the majority of gun violence committed in the U.S. is not by assault rifles, Rochester responded, “if one person can be in Parkland and shoot that many people at one time to me it’s worth that one percent being addressed.”
Jones considered New Castle’s town hall, which was part of a national student-led effort called Town Hall For Our Lives a success. She said it’s much nicer to debate face-to-face than online.
“I think it’s good just to see people get up from behind their screens and, whether they disagree with me or not, I think it’s good for them to come show their voice. Because we all have a voice and I think it’s important for all of us to showcase our own opinions,” said Jones.