Local students share concerns with senators
Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden spent about 90 minutes with students from Reynolds High School on Thursday, fielding a wide range of questions and urging them to get or stay politically active.
The Raiders' queries ranged from how the senators, both Democrats, would protect immigrant families to what to do about school budget cuts to action on homelessness. Several students asked about gun violence at the town hall-type meeting on Thursday, April 5.
"This is your moment. This is your time," Wyden told the students, referring to the wave of student activism sweeping the country after the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
A former student at the school killed 14 students and three staff members and injured many more.
Students nationwide have staged walkouts and major marches in more than 100 cities, protesting gun violence and pressing for legislation regarding gun accessibility.
The issue of school shootings hits particularly close to home at Reynolds, where on June 10, 2014, a student killed 14-year-old freshman Emilio Hoffman and wounded physical education teacher Todd Rispler. The student gunman committed suicide in a restroom as law enforcement closed in on him.
Although current Reynolds students were not enrolled then, many had siblings and friends at the school at the time of the shooting, so gun violence was a prominent topic at the town hall meeting.
Freshman Jaya Probasco-Mitchell asked the senators what they are doing to prevent mass shootings. Both said they are working toward common sense gun laws such as background checks and restrictions on "bump stocks," used to increase the firing speed of semiautomatic rifles.
Wyden urged the students to keep up pressure on leaders.
"Political change starts with all of you," Wyden said.
Senior Juliahna Harris queried the two legislators if the mass shootings were a problem of mental health or access to guns?
"It's both," Merkley said, noting that he'd like to see more funding for things such as school counselors.
Students asked about other topics too.
Chloe Morrow, a senior asked about protecting the so-called "Dreamer" students — those brought to the United States as children who have been protected by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
"We will not give up on this fight until there is finally justice for the dreamers," Wyden said to enthusiastic applause.
Wyden got a big laugh when he told students that after all the squabbling and partisan temper tantrums in Washington D.C. he wanted to talk with some mature and thoughtful people, so he decided to meet with high school students.
The senators are visiting high schools across the state on what they're calling the Listening to the Future tour.