Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan pledges to stand against gun violence with students

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Katalia Alexander is a student at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines.

By Katalia Alexander

On Thursday, March 8, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan hosted “Town Hall: Students Stopping Gun Violence,” giving students, families, and community members a chance to share their thoughts and ask questions to the Mayor and a panel that included a local high school student, a community organizer who works with at-risk youth, a doctor, and a high school principal who lost her brother to gun violence.

The panel fielded questions about a variety of topics relating to gun violence, including school safety, gun regulation, and community outreach.

The event was attended by several members of the student coalition that is organizing the Seattle March for Our Lives event, including myself. Before the event, we met with Mayor Durkan to discuss the changes that need to be made in our schools and communities.

“We really want to see an active role from the Mayor in fighting for those gun reforms and regulations,” said Alex Davidson, one of the student leaders with March for Our Lives. Students are asking for stricter gun laws at the state and national level, including universal background checks, banning assault rifles, and raising the age requirement for buying guns from 18 to 21. They added that they appreciated Mayor Durkan’s recognition and endorsement of the march, and hope she will continue to advocate for change. During the event, Mayor Durkan echoed the students’ calls to ban assault rifles, calling them “weapons of war that have no business being in civilian hands.”

Acknowledging the current lack of action at the national and state level, Mayor Durkan focused mainly on what can be done on the city-level to reduce gun violence and support youth at the Town Hall event.

While school shootings are what makes the news, Durkan’s panel recognized that gun violence is a much broader issue, touching on gang violence and suicide as well as school safety. The mayor highlighted policies that will aim to reduce gun violence in all of these situations.

“We’re looking at what we can do in area of safe storage,” she said when asked what Seattle is doing to reduce gun violence on a local level. “We’re looking at how we can increase information so people know they can get those emergency protective orders.”

Another key point discussed by the panel was the importance of creating opportunities for youth, especially those who are at-risk or live in communities with particularly high rates of gun violence.

“People shoot people because you feel alone. You shoot because you feel afraid. You shoot because you’re trying to make a change in an environment you feel you don’t have control over. We just need to add some degree of control,” said Gregory Pleasant, a junior at Rainier Beach High School who was part of the panel. He believes that establishing supportive communities and new opportunities for youth will give them the opportunities they need to establish that control over their lives, helping them choose options other than violence.

Einstein Middle School Principal Nyla Fritz spoke directly to the students in the audience, saying:

“What I have to say to you is… I’m sorry that the adults have failed you, and thank you for being the voice right now, standing up to say, ‘we deserve to walk into our schools feeling safe. We deserve to walk down our streets feeling safe.’”

Mayor Durkan encouraged student efforts to stand against gun reform, saying she’s glad that they are going to march and walk out of their classes, referencing March for Our Lives and the nationwide walkouts planned for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting.

Thursday’s Town Hall gave the community insight into the efforts by the mayor and other leaders to change the gun culture that is prevalent in our society, but it also showed how far we have to go. Nevertheless, students and adults alike are committed to continuing the fight.

“Keeping children safe is something that everyone – or most everyone – can agree on, and this cause… really brings everyone together,” said Rhiannon Rasaretnam, Tahoma High School senior and co-founder of Seattle March for Our Lives. As the March 24 event draws closer, one thing is certain: they’re not giving up.

March for Our Lives will be Saturday, March 24 at 10 a.m., beginning at Cal Anderson Park in the Capitol Hill region of Seattle.

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