With the conversation about gun control becoming more prevalent around the country, Santa Clarita students hosted a town hall at College of the Canyons to let the community discuss the issue.
The group of students, called Next Up, spent five days coordinating with the community and local leaders to create a forum where everyone in the community had the opportunity to speak on the national issue.
The town hall opened with nine students voicing their opinions on guns through 90-second speeches; each saying something different but all supporting some level of gun control.
Some mentioned the new active shooter training students learn in school; some mentioned the lives lost during the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas and Las Vegas; while others commented on having a civil debate and discussion about issues and how important it is.
“It’s very easy to to look at today’s politics and make quick judgements,” said Lèan Aguilar a Saugus High School student “What isn’t easy is having a one-on-one conversation with one another, and engaging in this town hall.”
“It’s times such as these that we need to be informed,” said Golden Valley High School student Dean Douglas. “We must use this knowledge to make well educated decisions when we vote to change our politics for the betterment of future generations.”
During her time to speak, Osato Omoregie, a Saugus High School student, made a connection between gun violence and culture to police brutality against persons of color in the country.
“ I’m an 18-year-old black girl, and when I walk down the street my first thought is not being attacked by a stranger,” Omoregie explained. “ My first thought and heart-wrenching fear is being stopped by a police officer. Not because I’m thinking about an action I have done; I fear a police stopping me and finding a reason that what I’m doing is punishable. Gun violence and police brutality go hand-in-hand. When one is given a gun, some become fearful of its power.”
Once the students had finished their speeches the town hall was opened to all who wished to speak. Most came out in favor of gun control in some form, while a handful spoke out against.
“I want to thank (the pro-gun supporters) with all of my heart,” said Cassidy Bensko, a Valencia High School freshman and one of the organizers of the town hall. “That was one of our main concerns that we would have a room full of people that all agree. That is not what the 25th (Congressional) voting district is about. That is what makes this district so unique and so important. It’s such a melting pot of different opinions. If we had a room of people who all think one thing, then we wouldn’t have gotten anything done.”
After the open discussion and brief intermission, Next Up invited the four Democratic candidates, Bryan Caforio, Katie Hill, Jess Phoenix and Mary Pallant, running against Congressman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, to debate the issue of guns.
Each candidate was given time for an opening statement, to give their opinion on gun control.
“There are things we can do to save lives starting tomorrow if we had people in office with the will power to stand up to the NRA and do that,” Caforio said. “Too many people are being killed, too many people are being injured and there are things we can do to save lives starting tomorrow.”
Hill took the time during her opening statement to connect her early life with a father in law enforcement to her opinion on gun violence.
“This (town hall) shows that the next generation is going to change the world and I’m so excited to be a part of it,” Hill explained. “My dad is still a police officer so every single night when I was a kid I laid awake wondering if my dad would make it home, and I was not worried about someone stabbing him. I was worried about someone shooting him.”
Phoenix also used the time to explain her personal experience with school shootings when she was a teenager.
“When I was 17, I was attending (school) down the road from Columbine High School and my boyfriend, he went to Columbine,” said Phoenix. “I wanna talk about… what gun violence does to a community afterwards, when the shooting is stopped. This is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when gun violence will impact each and everyone of us.”
For Pallant, the issue of gun violence needed is something she is willing to stand with students who want change.
“I’m reminded of a quote from “The Last Jedi”: ‘We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love,’ and that is what we are all doing here today,” Pallant told the audience. “The 2nd Amendment is not an unlimited right. I will stand up for you, I will stand with you and I will stand behind you.”
The primary for the 25th Congressional District election is June 5, between incumbent Steve Knight and challengers Bryan Caforio, Katie Hill, Jess Phoenix and Mary Pallant.