Students Discuss Gun Control and Partisanship with Local Lawmakers

State+Representative+Joan+Meschino+%28left%29+and+State+Senator+Patrick+O%27Connor+%28right%29+with+Hingham+High+School+students+%28from+left+to+right%29+Claire+Taylor%2C+Jack+Meyers%2C+Nick+Thompson%2C+Will+Sutton%2C+Will+Brady%2C+and+Molly+Schwall.+%0A%28Photo+by+Ryan+Heffernan%29

State Representative Joan Meschino (left) and State Senator Patrick O'Connor (right) with Hingham High School students (from left to right) Claire Taylor, Jack Meyers, Nick Thompson, Will Sutton, Will Brady, and Molly Schwall. (Photo by Ryan Heffernan)

Claire Taylor, Contributing Writer

On Tuesday night, State Representative Joan Meschino and State Senator Patrick O’Connor gathered with Hingham High School students in a semicircle of chairs at the Paul Pratt Library to discuss gun control and school safety. Organized by junior Will Sutton, the event was designed to increase the overall understanding of gun control in regards to both the student concerns and lawmaker actions.

In two hours, the group evaluated specific Massachusetts and American measures that contribute and hinder efforts for making America safer for all.

After State Representative Joan Meschino and State Senator Patrick O’Connor gave brief personal introductions about themselves on how and they became involved in lawmaking, Meschino and O’Connor opened up the floor to students to ask questions and engage in discussion on measures taken in Massachusetts to decrease gun violence among citizens.

Patrick O’Connor highlighted how Massachusetts has a history of being a model state in health care reform and continues to be a model state for more intense federal measures of gun control to decrease gun violence. Joan Meschino explained and passed around a draft copy of Bill H. 3081, a current effort in Massachusetts designed to implement Extreme Risk Protective Orders. In Massachusetts, ERPOs would grant the local chief of police of a community the power to take away weapons for one year from firearm owners believed to be a threat to themselves or others.

The discussion grew to address the relationship between gun violence and mental health. Students spoke that, nationally, they felt the debate over why mass shootings occur has wrongly fallen into two categories: either an issue of mental health or guns. The students explained that, the problem should instead be recognized as a public health and/or safety issue in order to find a solution.

Both Meschino and O’Connor, despite State Representative Meschino being a Democrat and State Senator O’Connor being a Republican, agreed that the best way to address the conflict of gun violence federally would be, like the students suggested, to classify it as a public safety and/or health issue. Similarly, Meschino and O’Connor advised that the most effective way to progress legislation is, on the activists’ part, to advocate with a “clear message.”

Students also shared their specific opinions about the extent to which the March For Our Lives back in March was a success. Some students explained how the orange $1.05 tags distributed at the marches to notify people of the immense sums of money that Marco Rubio receives from the NRA was too emotionally fueled instead of politically focused.

Overall, the topic that dominated the conversation was partisanship, especially considering that Joan Meschino, a Democrat, and Patrick O’Connor, a Republican, came together and presented parallel support for lawmaking actions to increase gun control both in Massachusetts and throughout America. State Senator O’Connor spoke to the group of the overwhelming power of social media in partisanship and how it tends to magnify the “15%” of radicals that dominate media coverage which leads to a greater and unnecessary divide among the American people.

Junior Jack Meyers spoke, “It was interesting how the majority of the conversation had to do with partisanship and just being able to work together.” Junior Nick Thompson agreed, speaking to the fact that the group concurred that, as American citizens, “we need to overcome the aspect of partisanship” for a greater good.

State Representative Joan Meschino explained that, first and foremost, the meeting was driven by students, because Will Sutton had asked for her to come meet with students. She shared that she attended “to listen to the conversation and be responsive,” which ultimately lead to what she considered a “very interactive, dynamic discussion on important issues that are facing not just our community but the entire country.”

Meschino and O’Connor spoke that, unlike local government where lawmakers normally focus their efforts on helping the people of their communities, the federal government has not made many changes in light of recent events. They explained that part of the reason that America hasn’t seen huge federal advances in gun control in 2018 despite movements like #NeverAgain and instead sees increased anger among citizens about lack of policy change is because Washington is tied to multi-million dollar business like the NRA which makes reforms extremely difficult to pass.

The discussion feels disturbingly appropriate after news of a high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday morning that left ten dead and ten wounded, according to TIME magazine, surfaced days later.

State Senator Patrick O’Connor concluded the session with an overarching reminder applicable to all Americans: “We need to provide a solution to ensure that there is never going to be a school shooting again and working from there because that’s one thing that everyone agrees upon.”