Friday, April 20, 2018 marked 19 years since the Columbine High School shooting. It also marked Dub-C for Our Lives Coalition’s first big event, “Walkout for Our Lives”—a campus-wide initiative to engage the local community in the national conversation about preventing gun violence.
The day kicked off with a walkout at 10 a.m., leading students and faculty to the Academic Quad. Six speakers—students, faculty, community members and local representatives—took turns standing on milk crates, sharing stories about how their lives have been affected by gun violence either directly or indirectly.
One of the speakers, West Chester student Nahje Royster, spoke to the crowd about how the national movements for gun control have largely excluded discussions about black and brown people. “One-thousand, one-hundred and twenty-nine people were reportedly killed by police last year,” she said, pointing to police violence as a problem the movement should also address.
West Chester Mayor Diane Herrin mentioned this issue of inclusivity, stating how when the Parkland students were criticized for being “white” and “privilged,” they acknowledged this and said, “Let’s rise up together; let’s do this together.” Herrin went on, “That’s the response that’s going to make this movement successful. I want to thank you because the young people—your generation—has helped awaken my generation … I implore you that no matter who criticizes you, no matter what barriers and challenges you face, don’t quit. Enough is enough, and we say, ‘No way, NRA.’”
Another speaker, Legislative Lead of Gun Sense Chester County Starr Cummin Bright, shared her story about being shot at point blank range at a church in Chester County 27 years ago. She summed up her piece with a final statement: “A bullet is only the beginning of the pain that comes from a shooting.”
West Chester student Brandi Davis shared her own testimony, stating that her family has lost six people to gun violence in the last five years. One of these people, Khristian Scott, a family friend, was shot twice in the chest while walking home from a Chinese store one Wednesday evening.
Mikayla Deiter, WCU student and member of Dub-C for Our Lives Coalition, finished off the lineup of speakers: “This day of action is a call for our legislators to wake up and pay attention to us, their constituents. This day of action is a reminder that they work for us, not the other way around.”
Deiter went on: “Here at WCU, in the light of continued gun violence, we call on legislators in Pennsylvania, the general assembly, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to enact common sense gun laws to reduce gun violence. We believe that these steps can be taken without infringing upon the use of firearms for legitimate hunting, sporting or self-defense purposes. This movement roots itself not in the partisan politics but rather out of justice. We live in a culture which normalizes gun violence—this is not normal.”
After the conclusion of these narratives, various organizations held workshops in the academic quad; topics included toxic masculinity and violence, voter engagement and a listening project.
Following the workshops, attendees moved over to the Sykes Theater at 12 p.m. for a town hall on gun violence. The town hall was host to five panelists: Representative Carolyn Comitta (State House District 156), Nick Deminski (Republican candidate for State House District 156), Theresa Wright (Democratic candidate for Congress PA 05), Ken Krawchuck (Libertarian candidate for governor) and Bill Scott (member of Democratic State Committee, Chester County District four).
West Chester student Ellie Sullum, one of the leaders behind the walkout, served as the panel’s moderator.
Topics of the town hall included panelists’ opinions on the most effective means of reducing gun violence, how they would personally ensure people across the country are protected from gun violence, whether they support a ban on assault weapons and the importance of instilling strong voting habits at a young age.
The vast majority of panelists reiterated the idea that common sense gun laws override partisan politics. Deminski in particular stated, “I’m not your average, stereotypical Republican. I’m open to common sense gun regulations and gun laws, and I’m willing to work with both sides. I have members on my campaign who are life members of the NRA, but they’re also responsible gun owners. I also have people on my campaign who would never, ever touch a gun in their life. So that’s what I’m working toward—bringing people together, but also changing the mindset that not every Republican is a horrible person, and not every Republican is accepting money from the NRA, because I would never do such a thing.”
Moving through the questions, the panelists were asked about whether they would support a ban on assault weapons; four were in agreement that they would support a ban of this nature, minus Krawchuck.
“All weapons are assault weapons, even if it’s a pen knife,” replied Krawchuck. “One of the reasons why I really oppose it is because I’ve sworn an oath to uphold the Pennsylvania constitution, and so have these people … article one, section 21, quote: ‘The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned’ … yet we have a sitting State Rep. and somebody who’s going to run for State Rep. who are questioning your right to keep and bear arms … why are they violating their oath?”
Deminski replied, “I didn’t necessarily challenge the Second Amendment. I’m pro-Second Amendment, I believe in the constitution; however, there’s still room for revisions.”
Deminski then slid the mic to Comitta, who responded, “I support Second Amendment rights. But you can support Second Amendment rights and pass common sense gun legislation—they are not mutually exclusive. The NRA members at my round tables support common sense gun legislation … I definitely support banning military-style assault weapons.”
After some audience opposition in response to Krawchuck’s statement, he offered, “If you’re an idiot with a gun, you don’t get it—you belong in jail,” reiterating his earlier statements that the only people who shouldn’t own guns are those who prove themselves to be “idiots,” only defining this as someone who mishandles or misuses a gun in some manner.
Bill Scott jumped into the conversation with his own take: “You heard what Ken said—you can’t differentiate what we know are assault weapons … you can’t make the distinction between that and a repeater pistol … I saw somebody on MSNBC about two weeks ago—very bright guy—and he was making that same argument. I was down at the March for Our Lives … the Trumpees, they made that same argument. I’m just hearing it, it’s a new thing; don’t buy it, I’m a lawyer. If we can’t figure out how to define different types of guns, we better go back to grammar school.”
“Here are the facts: Assault weapons kill in the masses. So I would support a ban on assault weapons,” stated Theresa Wright. “Laws are put in place for a reason—it’s for the development and the security of the greater good. The minute we take the Second Amendment right and use that to kill thousands of individuals, it’s time to push more regulation,” Wright added.
The town hall portion of the day went on for around an hour and a half, ending with an audience Q&A; the day of action concluded around 1:30 p.m.
Professors Seth Kahn and Ashley Patriarca of the English Department shared advice on why getting involved in these types of events and movements is so important: “Because people our age haven’t got it right yet, and somebody has to. It shouldn’t be on you to have to do this, but it’s not happening any other way,” said Kahn.
Patriarca added, “It’s important for all of us to get involved in every level of our community, and this is such a great student-led way to do that.”
When asked how students should go about getting more involved, Kahn said, “Follow the sponsors … there are lots of people who have already started organizing, and what they need [are] people and energy and commitment.”
Deiter added her own take on Dub-C for Our Lives Coalition’s day of action, stating that more than anything, she hopes that this event showed students they have a voice, and exercising it isn’t as daunting as it may seem.
Deiter urged at the end of her speech, “Don’t let this day be the last action you take … for some of us, this could just be the beginning. In solidarity, the Dub-C for Our Lives Coalition.”
Lauren Detweiler is a fourth-year student majoring in English writings with a minor in communication studies. ✉ LD838069@wcupa.edu.