By News Editor Gloria Chang & Web Editor Jonathan Ko
Hundreds of students, including dozens from MSJ, filled the Newark Memorial High School gym on Monday afternoon to take part in a town hall with US Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on the topic of gun violence. The event, announced just days before, took place with a standard town hall format, mostly featuring the speakers answering questions from students about gun violence candidly.
The two high-profile headliners were joined by Matt Deitsch, a 20-year-old alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, whose younger siblings experienced the shooting. Deitsch is the oldest member of Never Again MSD, a student-led gun-control advocacy group formed by students and residents of Parkland who felt the effects of the massacre firsthand.
The town hall opened with quick, five-minute speeches by each of the three speakers who introduced themselves and their purposes for attending. Kerr in particular shared his own story related to gun violence. His father was shot to death by terrorists in 1984. With firsthand knowledge of gun violence, Kerr said, “I know how it feels.”
The floor was then opened to students to raise their hands and ask questions directly to the three-man panel. Queries ranged from the NBA’s official stance on the massacre to the value of discussing a controversial topic in the politically homogeneous Bay Area.
Seated side-by-side in the center of the room, the three presented a united front against gun violence. They took turns ridiculing recent legislation for its weaknesses, in particular Florida’s plan to arm teachers in response to the Parkland massacre. Deitsch was met with deafening applause when he said, “I don’t see why our government is paying 500 million to arm teachers when they can’t pull out 13 million for the arts.”
Throughout the responses and repeated gun violence statistics, each speaker emphasized the importance of students taking action. When a student asked what the single most important thing they can do every day was, Kerr said, “I think it’s to be active, to be proactive actually. To get out there and encourage your fellow students during the walkout on Wednesday and during the march on the 24th. To vote. Again, this all comes back to the fact that we live in a democracy. That is the beauty of what we face. We can change, but only if you’re galvanized, if you’re inspired to do so.”
Many other advocates of gun control also attended the event, showing passion and appreciation for the discussion. Toni Shellen, president of the local chapter of the Brady Campaign for Fremont, Newark, and Union City, stood up to introduce the campaign and its goals of strengthening background checks, banning assault weapons, and enacting restraining order laws for potentially dangerous gun-holders.
Chairman of the House Gun Violence Protection Task Force US Rep. Mike Thompson closed the event by thanking the speakers and attendees. Ending the town hall with a final encouragement to the students, he said, “You are our voice. We need to make sure your voice echoes through the country and through the halls of Congress.”
Photo by Web Editor Jonathan Ko