Just hours before a school shooting in Colorado Tuesday, a Brooklyn politician spearheaded a student roundtable discussion about gun violence at a Bay Ridge school that, last year, underwent a lock-down for a rumored shooter on the premises.
U.S. Rep Max Rose, an Army combat veteran and a member of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, spoke with Fort Hamilton High School students on May 7 about preventing gun violence.
Later that same day there was yet another school shooting at Highlands Ranch High School, just seven miles from Columbine where two 12th grade students murdered 12 students and one teacher in 1999. In the most recent incident, one 18-year-old student was killed and eight were injured by two peers with guns.
Rose has long been an advocate for gun safety reforms, and also supports legislation to ban the sale, manufacture or possession of new, military-style assault weapons to civilians.
The 14-student roundtable included a diverse cross-section of the student body. It all came about after Rose held a town hall meeting at the school. Impressed with the response to the town hall, Rose reached out and asked if some students would be interested in having a further discussion on the topic of gun violence.
Fort Hamilton High School Principal Kaye Houlihan was delighted to have Rose at the roundtable. “We have great students and this is a powerful opportunity for them to hear and voice their opinions on this topic,” said Houlihan.
The senior, junior and sophomore class representatives who attended were from various neighborhoods including Flatbush, Park Slope, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge.
Rose said that he deeply admired the students for showing interest in the issue of gun violence. “There’s a sense, I think, that young people don’t want to get involved or they’re not thinking about issues or elected officials should not be talking to them because they’re not voters, but I don’t believe any of that,” said Rose.
Rose explained that he never had to take a school safety drill when he was in school, but since Columbine and the onslaught of current school shootings, it’s become essential. “With this issue that we’re dealing with today, gun safety, gun violence prevention, school safety, it’s something you all live with every day.”
One student spoke of an incident in 2018 when it was suspected that a student had brought a gun to their school, “Once one person found out that someone supposedly had a gun, everyone found out and everyone started to panic,” the student recalled.
“We were locked in the band room and it was just a scary situation because you don’t know what’s going on and everyone’s texting you, and your parents to see what’s going on,” the student went on. “[We were] just like left there not knowing what to think, but thank God everything was cleared up and the NYPD took care of everything. It wasn’t that bad afterwards, but my father and my mother were calling me. So for someone who’s actually going through that in a real situation, I can’t imagine how I would react.”
When student Adam Almontaser asked, “What would be the most common way someone who’s not registered to have a gun could get one?” Rose answered by talking about the iron pipeline and how 75 percent of weapons used in gun violence in New York City actually originate out of state.
“The federal government has gotten out of the business of gun violence prevention, out of the business of gun legislation,” explained Rose. “And so we have different states with less restrictive or more restrictive gun legislation. If you go down south, it’s unbelievable what you can do. You can go to a gun fair so long as you’re not buying from a licensed firearms dealer and you can buy a weapon without a background check.”
Rose listed a number of different ways an individual could purchase guns without a background check in various states. “And then,” he said, “what they do is they transport the weapons up I-95, by bus, taxi, car or plane, and they sell them over here.”
Rose further noted that every single gun used in a crime in New York City at one point or another was a legal weapon. “And then it becomes an illegal weapon when a criminal gets his hands on it,” he added.
Another student expressed the profound fear they have to live with every day. “We’re all just teenagers and I think the fact that we’re experiencing this at our young age is just ridiculous,” the student said. “I shouldn’t have to go to school or go to a place with a lot of people and be afraid that something would happen. And I feel like just because it keeps happening, it’s always a thought in my mind.”
Rose listened attentively to the students’ concerns.“What is alarming to me about the issue of gun violence right now is that it seems Washington has become immune from being shocked into action,” said Rose. “It begs the question, what will it take? What will it take for Congress to finally act to prevent gun violence?”
“I wanted to be at the roundtable today because gun violence and school safety in a large school like ours are definitely pressing issues,” said Hannah Puelle.
“I was glad to get to meet our congressman. I’ve read about him before but I was glad to be able to get to meet him in person. What I got out of it was the sense that there are definitely people in government who are working for students and trying to make sure that we are all safe in our schools,” she added.
“I’m just proud that our kids care and I think Congressman Rose was very engaging and informative by alerting our students that they have a voice and that they can have a role in making the community safer,” said Houlihan. “They’re our next generation. They’re going to make the difference.”