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Gun control activist Linda Beigel Schulman speaks next to a picture of her son Scott. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

As the first anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, passed by Feb. 14, gun control advocates and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are gearing up for another round of gun debate.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) alongside gun violence prevention groups advocated for support for a proposed federal bill that would require background checks on all sales of firearms at a press conference Feb. 19. 

“We are not trying to take anyone’s guns away — we are trying to prevent people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting one in the first place.”

— Tom Suozzi

H.R. 8, or the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, was first introduced in early January by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California). Suozzi is a co-sponsor of the bill. 

The congressman announced that H.R.8 had passed the House Judiciary Committee and would next be put to vote on the House floor. 

“It will go to the floor in the next week or two,” he said. “I feel good that this bill will pass the House of Representatives — the challenge is whether or not we can get the votes in the Senate.” 

The bill would also see the end of a known loophole in firearm sales. 

“There is a gun show loophole,” Suozzi said. “We are not trying to take anyone’s guns away — we are trying to prevent people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting one in the first place.” 

Currently under federal law, individuals who are convicted felons of domestic abuse, those who have a restraining order or those who have been found using controlled substances are restricted from purchasing guns. Gun control activists have argued the gun show loophole has made it possible for private and unlicensed sellers to market firearms to buyers without going through a background check process. 

“I stand here today with Congressman Suozzi to fully back his support of reasonable gun control,” Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said.

Schulman’s son, Scott, was a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and was one of 17 individuals killed in the Parkland shooting. She said she first met the congressman at a March for Our Lives rally. 

“He spoke with me about the shooting, and I knew his concerns, his support was genuine,” Schulman said. “He is fighting for the safety of all of us.”

“Just this Friday there was another workplace shooting — this has to stop.”

— Linda Beigel Schulman

Suozzi said many guns that are brought into New York State illegally are purchased through this loophole. He pointed to a statistic that said over 70 percent of gun crimes that have occurred in New York have been caused with firearms that originated out of the state, according to a 2016 report from the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Schulman said the bill is a bipartisan attempt to pass common sense gun control legislation and that safety from gun violence is not a partisan issue.  

“If asked the question: Do you want to be safe, your children to be safe? Have you ever heard anyone answer no?,” she said. 

Marybeth Baxter, Long Island coordinator of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence agreed with Schulman, stating that universal background checks are paramount for the safety of New York, other states and the nation. 

“Just this Friday there was another workplace shooting — this has to stop,” Schulman said. “If the universal background check prevents just one shooting, then it has done it purpose, it has saved lives.”

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

According to the Gun Violence Archive, the number of mass shootings during 2018 in the United States has been estimated at 346, with 18 of them in schools. But laws backed by the NRA and other pro-gun groups prevent the public from seeing which firearms dealers are selling the most guns used in crimes, information the federal government collects but won’t share, even with premier research universities. The NRA also pushed through rules that had a chilling effect on federal studies focused on how guns affect public health, denying policymakers a road map for better gun laws.

Regulating the ownership and use of guns by the federal government began in the 1920s and ’30s with support from the general public and the NRA, then a sporting and hunting association. Since then the federal government and the states have passed legislation requiring background checks, waiting periods, licenses for concealed weapons carriers, restrictions on purchases for certain high-risk people and a ban on assault weapons and ammunition. 

The 1993 Brady Act, against NRA opposition, tightened the background check requirements and created the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS system, to provide speedy background checks. After the shooting at Sandy Hook governments turned their attention to preventing shootings by high-risk people.  

New York State passed the SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act), amending its Mental Hygiene Law to add a new reporting requirement that mental health professionals currently providing treatment services to an individual must make a report to authorities, “if they conclude that the individual is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.” The act requires those who live with a household member “who has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, has been involuntarily committed, or is currently under an order of protection” to “safely store” and lock any guns in a secure gun cabinet.

NRA opponents of the regulations state that the laws only hurt people who adhere to current firearms laws, and the regulations about gun locking devices prevent gun owners from using their guns in self-defense.

The League of Women Voters of the United States has been in support of stricter laws for background checks, more gun safety education, a ban on assault weapons and protection for victims of domestic violence from abusers who possess guns. The LWV of New York supported legislation to establish criminal sanctions for possession and sale of assault weapons, which were banned in 1994 but released from the ban in 2004. 

Currently, on both the federal and state levels, there are laws that are being considered during this session that would deal with many of the loopholes and problems of illegal firearm use.  

On the federal level, proposed legislation this term includes: requiring unlicensed sellers to meet their buyers (with certain exceptions) at a licensed gun dealer who would run a background check using the same process used for his own inventory, support for a ban on assault weapons, broadening the definition of domestic abusers to the laws protecting victims of domestic violence and opposing a national bill that allows people to carry concealed weapons.  

On the NYS level, in January the Assembly and the Senate passed six important gun control bills related to an extreme risk protection order (ERPO/“red flag”) law, background checks extension, a bump stock ban, a ban on arming educators, out-of-state mental health records check and gun buyback programs. In February we hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs these bills, and that the needed regulations are written and appropriate funding allocated. 

Contact your U.S. representative and NYS senator and Assembly member to find out how they voted or plan to vote, and what they think of these bills. Thank them if they did vote for those you care about, and clearly communicate your concerns and advocacy when they did not. For more information, go to the Senate or Assembly websites to research details on the individual bills or check with individual congressional or NYS legislative aides via phone or email. Make your voice heard on this important issue. 

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman, second from left, and Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, third from left, at a rally together in summer in 2018. Photo from Ellyn Guttenberg

On a holiday to celebrate love in all its forms, two Suffolk County families’ worlds were forever shattered upon hearing their loved ones were killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman learned that her son, Scott, a geography teacher was killed while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Scott Beigel, 35, had only been teaching at Parkland for six months.

Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, recalled waiting for news that his 14-year-old niece, Jaime, was safely home from school, but his hope turned to despair when he received news she was one of the victims who was fatally shot.

I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere.”

— Paul Guttenberg

“How could this have happened,” he said at a March rally. “I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

Both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg have worked hard to make the best of a tragic situation and in doing so they have been transformed in the process.

“I have the deepest respect and admiration for Linda, who while coping with unspeakable sorrow, has channeled her emotions and energy into becoming a forceful voice for reasonable gun control,” Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said.

For their efforts in turning personal tragedy into action, TBR News Media is recognizing both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg as 2018 People of the Year.

Throughout 2018, these two individuals have spoken out publicly and have met with federal, state and local officials to advocate for stricter gun control measures. Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg are familiar faces in the offices and staff members of U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and the Huntington town board.

“[Linda] has implored legislators to ban automatic weapons and require background checks for all gun ownership and to pass the Red Flag Law in New York State,” Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “She has and will continue to make a difference.”

“[Linda] has and will continue to make a difference.”

—Mark Cuthbertson

Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg came together July 29 in Huntington Station’s Breezy Park to speak at a gun control rally before a crowd of more than 600 people. Each took a turn at the podium to call for stricter gun control measures and encourage youth voter participation in the upcoming November elections.

“People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’” Beigel Schulman said July 29. “My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote.”

Guttenberg’s wife, Ellyn, said it has taken a lot of courage and determination for her husband to step forward into the public spotlight following Parkland.

“Paul was not a public speaker,” she said. “It was very hard for him in the beginning, but it’s something he’s very passionate about.”

The ability of both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg to move forward and attempt to make a difference, while being level headed, is a feature many elected officials applauded them for. Others have called their actions inspirational.

“Someday we will win this fight to have common sense gun violence prevention laws passed. Linda will be one of the proud drivers of that success,” Suozzi said. “She inspires me!”

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) signs copies of his new novel "Big Guns" at Book Revue. Photo by Karen Forman

By Karen Forman

A Huntington politician turned author is hoping his newest novel hits its mark with area residents.

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D) celebrated the release of his latest work of fiction “Big Guns” at Huntington’s Book Revue April 19 to a standing-room only crowd.

The 320-page novel, released April 17 by publisher Simon & Schuster, is a political satire on national gun control issues that almost seems ripped from recent headlines.

Huntington resident Avalon Fenster, 16, speaks at Israel’s book release as the founder of March for Our Lives Long Island. Photo by Karen Forman

“After Sandy Hook, I saw the president crying about all the first graders who were murdered and I thought that now things are going to be different,” Israel said. “But nothing changed.”

The former politician said he was inspired after reading that the small town of Nelson, Georgia, passed an ordinance in 2013 that every single resident had to own and carry a gun — or pay a fine.

“That triggered the idea for the book,” he said.

“Big Guns” is the second novel written by Israel, following “The Global War on Morris” which hit book stores in December 2014. Both novels are fictional political satires that make illusions and references to Long Island towns.

“I believe that satire is the most successful way of making a point,” he said. “I wanted to make my point without slapping people in the face, and satire is more believable when you use local references.”

Readers may be surprised to find Israel’s novel is also filled with local characters who are based on people he served with when he was a Huntington town councilman, from 1993 to 2001, and others he met while in Congress.

While serving in the U.S. Congress, the former politician said he and other Democratic congressmen have attempted to pass several bills on gun reform: universal background checks; “no fly, no buy” laws; laws that would outlaw bullets that can pierce a cop’s body armor. All were defeated.

Fourth-grader Spencer James with his mom, Fran James, and twin brother, Matthew, at the book launch. Photo by Karen Forman

Israel said one day in the “members-only elevator” in Congress, a colleague told him that he couldn’t believe he had just voted against all these gun reform amendments. But otherwise, he couldn’t go back to his district and face all his NRA supporters.

“That shows the intensity of gun voters,” Israel said. “They vote on guns and that’s all. They don’t vote on other issues. And they will not forgive politicians who vote against guns.”

The former politician has been actively involved with the March for Our Lives Long Island movement, founded by 16-year-old Huntington resident Avalon Fenster. While she is still too young to vote, Fenster said she agrees that “young people are the change.” Several students attended the event after having heard Israel speak at the March for Our Lives rally March 24, including Spencer James, a fourth-grader from Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School in Huntington.

“I want my future to be safe and happy,” James said.

Israel said he  feels there is hope now for real change in federal gun control policies.

“Our government has failed us on this issue, the adults have allowed this to happen,” he said. “But these young people today are not giving up. They will not forget. And so there will be change.”

#NationalHighSchoolWalkout movement comes on 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting

By Rita J. Egan

A student-led movement at Ward Melville is determined to ensure the voices of high schoolers continue to be heard when it comes to preventing gun violence.

On April 20 — 19 years after the Columbine High School shooting — about four dozen members of WM Students Take Action participated in the second wave of the #NationalWalkout movement. While the number of participants was about 200 less than the March 14 walkout, held a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, participating students nonetheless braved a chilly, windy day to stand in solidarity to call for stricter gun control legislation.

“You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

— Ward Melville student

With a megaphone in hand, senior Bennett Owens led the crowd outside of school. Students read poems and gave speeches for 45 minutes. The rally included a moment of silence to remember Columbine victims, and in-between speeches, participants would shout out chants including “Listen to us” or “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

During the rally, Owens said the protesters were asking for common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on “assault-style rifles” and universal background checks. He said when our forefathers wrote the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, they had no idea the type of weapons that could be made. He added his generation is the most qualified to speak about the issue because of the number of shootings that have occurred during their lifetimes.

One speaker encouraged the group not to listen to those who call them irrational. She said their detractors believe they want to ban all guns, instead of just assault weapons, because the opposition doesn’t engage them in conversation.

“We actually have ideas, we have plans, and we will vote,” she said.

Many of the students talked about how they are part of the generation of change. One girl who delivered a speech told her fellow students not to be afraid of punishment when it comes to protests and to disregard criticism that young people don’t know what they are talking about.

“What can a bunch of high schoolers know about change?” she said. “The high schoolers are the ones who are dying. Their opinions are the only opinions that really matter. You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate. I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.”

— Bennett Owens

During the 45-minute protest, drivers passing by honked sporadically to show their support, and for 15 minutes, nearly a dozen Ward Melville students stood outside with signs that read “Join the NRA,” opposite the protesters.

After the walkout, Owens said he was feeling optimistic.

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate,” he said. “I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.

No more protests are planned for the rest of the school year, Owens explained, but on Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 1, the group hopes to sell ribbons at school and donate the funds to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.

Owens, who wants to be a criminal defense attorney, said he plans to continue his activism in college and has faith WM Students Take Action will continue.

“I have to pass down this organization soon, and I’m really hopeful based on the turnout we’ve seen today by underclassmen that this organization will continue to protest for the injustices that we’ve seen,” he said.

Despite concerns posted on the group’s Instagram page before the walkout, the students faced no disciplinary action, according to an April 23 statement from school district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

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Students applaud as their peers deliver speeches during the Port Jeff Station March for our Lives March 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

The 1980s rock band White Lion said it best when they sang: “When the children cry let them know we tried, ’cause when the children sing then the new world begins.”

Children across the country ensured their cries were heard March 24 when millions of them took to the streets to call for implementation of stricter gun control laws as part of hundreds of March for Our Lives rallies. Now we have a challenge for them and the parents and grandparents who joined them — keep the momentum.

The rallies were inspired by the battle cries of students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For centuries, protesting has been a popular way to get politicians to pay attention, but those rallying calls need to be followed by action in order to get things done. We surmise many if not most of the student marchers understand this is just beginning, like Avalon Fenster, one of the organizers of the March 24 rally in Huntington.

“In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority,” Fenster said.

It’s something Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman, Matt Pifko and Gavin Barrett also get. These students helped establish a station in their high school where their peers can get assistance in writing letters to their representatives. Letter writing, emailing and calling the offices of elected officials is a vital process to let legislators know what their constituents want and need.

However, writing to a congressman is not the end of the line either if true change is the students’ goal. All the letters and phone calls in the world mean nothing if a person isn’t registered to vote. The March for Our Lives website, www.marchforourlives.com, has set up a form to make it easier for voters to register. It’s a rite of passage and a civic responsibility when a teen turns 18.  High school students who are heading off to college in the fall need to also familiarize themselves and their peers with the process of obtaining and
submitting an absentee ballot. If you are registered to vote in Setauket but go to school at SUNY Cortland, unless you’re driving home on the morning of Nov. 6, an absentee ballot is your only option.

Simply showing up to fill out a ballot is not enough either. People of all ages need to ask themselves what matters most to them, and then see how their representatives in the U. S. Senate, House of Representatives and state positions vote on issues.

There’s one more step 18-year-old marchers need to keep on the table as well. If you feel you and your community are not being represented effectively by those in power, consider running for office, or at least help those who represent your interests get elected. That’s what 24-year-old Josh Lafazan did last November, and he became Nassau County’s youngest legislator. For a few political offices — including New York State senator and assemblyperson — the minimum age requirement is 18 years old. To serve in the federal government, you must be at least 25 years old.

Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, is a living embodiment of what is possible. He recently dropped out of his race after receiving criticism for remarks he made on Twitter about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, including calling Emma Gonzalez, who has been in the forefront of the movement, a “skinhead lesbian.” He had been running unopposed, but after he made the comment, challengers sprung up from both parties, including a 28-year-old Democrat who had never considered seeking political office before.

We’ve heard the children’s cries. Now the real work begins.

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Students at Stony Brook University organized a March for Our Lives protest. Photo from Amanda DeJesus

While March for Our Lives rallies were scheduled in various towns on Long Island, members of the Stony Brook University community felt it was important that the campus get involved in the movement, too.

Amanda DeJesus, an undergraduate student at the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare, was one of the organizers of a March for Our Lives rally at SBU. The event started at 11 a.m. March 24 and many of the approximately 300 people who attended the university rally went to Port Jefferson Station afterward to take part in that protest.

Local residents joined SBU students and faculty at a March for Our Lives rally March 24. Photo from Evelyn Costello

“As a social welfare student, promoting social justice is the cornerstone of our profession,” DeJesus said. “I believe that demanding common-sense gun laws is a first step in creating a safer society for everyone, so that is why I wanted Stony Brook University to become a part in this very important conversation.”

Alli Ross, from Port Jefferson Station, attended the SBU rally with her fiancé. She said it was the first march she ever attended, and she was amazed every time she looked back and saw more people joining in. While she doesn’t have children yet, she said she has younger sisters and cousins, and ensuring children’s safety is important to her.

“This is just something that really hits hard for me … as it does with a lot of others,” Ross said. “Just being a part of something like that, and everyone coming together and showing that this is something that needs to be done, something that needs to be changed, it makes me feel a little bit better. It makes me feel like there is hope because there are so many like-minded people who care so strongly about it.”

Courtney Kidd, an adjunct professor at the university, spoke at the event and said she was honored when the student-organizers invited her. She said she first thought of declining and suggesting a speaker who would be an expert on gun violence, but then she remembered when she was a student hearing the saying: “One voice can make a difference; I am one voice.”

“I realized that this march is about more than rehearing the statistics that you already know, and instead about making change,” Kidd said at the rally. “It’s not about their voice — it’s about yours. So, if I can help you realize that you don’t always need the years and the title, that we need your voice, then I may be able to say I made a difference.”

DeJesus said she hopes the young people will continue voicing their concerns.

“I believe that we will be able to see change if we continue speaking about it,” DeJesus said. “We must keep the conversation going, never forget all the lives lost due to gun violence, continue walking out and don’t let anyone silence us.”

She said it’s vital to get out and vote.

“The midterm elections are so important and not enough people, especially young people, are registered,” DeJesus said. “The best way to make your voices heard is to vote. You never know if your vote will be the one that makes a difference.”

 

By Karen Forman

Hundreds of students, parents, grandparents and politicians rallied outside Huntington Town Hall this Saturday to honor the lives of the Parkland school shooting victims and call for the implementation of stricter gun control measures.

The March for Our Lives Long Island held March 24, founded by 16-year-old Huntington students Avalon Fenster and Sara Frawley, was one of the more than 800 rallies that sprung up across the country as part of the national movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“In the short term, we want to honor the lives lost in Parkland and all the school shootings since Columbine,” Fenster said. “In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority.”

“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home.”
— Julia Fenster

The event was kicked off with a performance by Dan Krochmal, an Australian-born singer now residing in New York City, who wrote a song in support of the movement titled “Pride Before the Fall.” Featured speakers included student organizers, local politicians and family members of the Parkland shooting victims.

“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home,” said Julia Fenster, Avalon’s mom, and the founding chairperson of March for Our Lives Long Island. “Where parents saying goodbye to their children in the morning don’t fear it is the final goodbye. Where teachers only need to worry about teaching and not about being a human shield.”

Melissa Beigel, the sister of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, spoke at the rally. Beigel was a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was shot and killed while attempting to lock his classroom door to protect students.

Avalon Fenster publicly called for politicians to pass stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the shootings. The student organizer acknowledged that U.S. citizens are entitled the right to bear arms but highlighted that there is a significant difference between colonial-era rifles and assault rifles.

“People forget that the 2nd Amendment was created in colonial times when they used a rifle that only shot about two bullets in three minutes,” she said. “Now we have automatic weapons that can shoot 140 rounds in three minutes. We are not trying to abridge people’s rights, but we do think that human life should take priority over material ownership and convenience of that ownership.”

“All you students, your voices count. Fight for change.”
— Paul Guttenberg

Rally organizers took turns reading the names of all the people who have been killed in a mass shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. This somber act caused a quiet hush to sweep over those gathered.

Former U.S. Rep Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who left office in January 2017, spoke about the voting behavior of elected officials he witnessed while in office.

“I spent 16 years watching people in Congress voting no for laws that would have kept us safe,” Israel said. “Each time I kept thinking that this time would be different, but they kept voting no. They didn’t want to let down their [National Rifle Association] voters.”

Among the signs carried by rally participants included “NRA profits are bathed in the blood of our children.” Israel has written a 320-page book titled “Big Guns,” a comical novel about the firearms industry and Washington politics, which is currently scheduled to be published in April.

“If adult politicians can’t keep you safe, you vote against them,” he said, to which the crowd responded with “vote them out.” “Change is coming and you are our change. We are going to make the world safe again.”

Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, uncle of slain 14-year-old Parkland student Jaime Guttenberg, took to the stage to publicly address a crowd for the first time.

“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them. Now we have to be their voices.”
— Max Robins

“She will never get to go to college, get married or have children of her own because of assault rifles,” he said. “Mass shooting can happen in any town in this country. We have to stop gun violence in this country and ban assault rifles.”

Guttenberg encouraged those students at the rally to use the rally’s momentum to keep pushing for stricter gun legislation.

“All you students, your voices count,” he said. “Fight for change.”

Isabelle Kaufman, a 16-year-old student at Half Hollow Hills East, echoed his sentiments as she spoke to those gathered about the need to hold the federal government and elected officials accountable.

“All of this happened because of a 19-year-old who couldn’t be trusted to purchase alcohol, but he was allowed to purchase an assault rifle,” she said. “Students should go to school in fear of taking a test, not in fear of their lives.”

The crowd, moved by the speeches, took up the chant of “No more silence. No more violence.”

Max Robins, a member of the March for Our Lives Long Island group, concluded the two-hour rally with a motivating speech and call to action.

“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them,” Robins said. “Now we have to be their voices. And we are the voice that will not be silenced. We will not be forgotten.”

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A man at a March 14 PTA meeting in a high school in Rocky Point, New York, confronts a student in the aisle and holds a knife over his head. The pocket knife is closed and the man is trying to make a point about the need for security on behalf of the students in the school, including his two daughters. It is a heart-stopping moment, and the video was provided to TBR News Media by a senior student named Jo Herman.

We ran the video, along with the story of the meeting, on our website, Facebook page and YouTube. Such is the world we live in and the concern of parents around the nation that, to date, the Facebook video post has been seen by more than 11.3 million viewers. The total reach for all our Facebook posts last week was in excess of 17 million. That’s 17 MILLION plus, about the same as the entire population of the Netherlands. In addition, there have been many thousands of shares and comments on our Facebook page and our website. These numbers were supplied to us by Facebook Insights, the dashboard of Facebook and the most authentic source.

If ever we needed evidence of this world we are living in today, and the heartfelt concern of parents
throughout the United States, here it is. Could there be any parents who feel untouched by the concern for the safety of their children in the schools? Children have become the latest targets of an assassin’s gun.

These are not jihadists doing the killing. These are not ideologues carrying out the murders. These are our own citizens, in many cases children themselves, who are able to procure weapons and turn them on their teachers and classmates. Those 11 million viewers and all the rest of the parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends of children who haven’t seen this video are no less terrified at the tragedies that have already been perpetrated and the violence that may yet come.

What is to be done? There are many reactions. Our children have realized their political clout and called for action with their walkouts and 17 moments of silence. Politicians in various states have proposed legislation, even passed legislation in one state, Florida, to try to gain control of this madness. The state is being sued for doing so, and the president offers words.

Consider this. A puppy dies on an airplane and within 48 hours, there is legislation passed to attempt to prevent such an unhappy event from happening again. How many more youngsters and adults must die before we can get our arms around this horror?

Social media can be great. It can be a miracle thread that connects us, informs us, unites us. It can also be a misery, as governments around the world are realizing. Facebook has been corrupted by its inability to prevent personal information from being stolen by nefarious thieves. But it has delivered a loud and clear message with the frenzy of response to a single incident in a small town on Long Island: The population is frightened, more frightened than by any attacks made against us by foreign nations or religious fanatics in the past. This threat is inside our defenses and until now seemingly unstoppable.

Yes, we need gun control. Yes, we need mental health services. Yes, we need greater vigilance. Yes, we need protection. We need all of that and more. Most of all, we need leadership, not contention, because this is a
moment that is shaking our republic in its heart.

A student-led movement calling for gun control legislation has reached Port Jefferson. Stock photo

The national walkout planned for March 14 came and went in Port Jefferson, and students stayed indoors. However kids from both Port Jefferson and Comsewogue school districts didn’t sit out of the gun control conversation playing out across the United States.

As discussions of a national movement sprung up in early March calling for students across the United States to at once exit school buildings beginning at 10 a.m. as a form of protest in response to the shooting that killed 17 people in Florida in February, administrators across the North Shore grappled with the idea of allowing students to demonstrate without punishment and the possible dangers associated with walking out of school.

Officials from both districts elected to schedule indoor assemblies to discuss school violence and gun control, encouraging students not to physically walkout of buildings.

“We want students who choose to be involved to have a focus for their efforts, so the day and time will be meaningful,” Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano said ahead of plans being finalized.

What eventually unfolded in Port Jeff, after collaboration between administration and students, was an assembly in the auditorium open to all students, in which victims of the shooting were honored, and then attendees were given the opportunity to deliver remarks that were approved by the administration prior to the event, according to students Gavin Barrett and Matt Pifko. The pair are among a group of students who both operate @pjhswalkout, an Instagram account which has served to organize those in the district interested in becoming more organized and vocal on gun control and overall school safety, and also participated in collaborating on the March 14 events with school officials, including Principal Christine Austen.

March For Our Lives to take place in PJS

By Alex Petroski

In accordance with the call to action issued by survivors of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a local March For Our Lives rally will take place in Port Jefferson Station at the intersection of Routes 112 and 347 March 24 from 1 to 3:30 p.m., according to representatives from the activists North Country Peace Group.

Students and families from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and others worldwide will take to the streets to demand action from elected officials to stem the escalation of gun violence and mass shootings in the nation’s schools. The Port Jefferson Station gathering is one of more than 650 events planned for that day.

The students and their parents are sponsoring the rally with help from The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven. Two of those groups, Building Bridges and Moms Demand, were formed specifically in response to gun shootings.

The organizers said all are welcome to attend the Port Jefferson Station rally. To participate in the program (priority will be given to students) or to learn more about the event, contact ncpeaceg@gmail.com.

“I thought the assembly was a respectful balance of honoring the victims of the Parkland shooting and providing the students in attendance with an opportunity to bring awareness to the #Enough movement,” Austen said after the event.

Barrett and Pifko said the assembly had outcomes they viewed as both positive and negative, but overall applauded administration for its efforts in creating an environment in which students could express their views.

“I personally was able to share a lot of what I wanted to say,” Barrett said.

He added that an aspect of the planning was also to afford a platform to a friend with more conservative political leanings pertaining to gun control.

“Whatever people took away from our message, we were able to give them that freely and the school did let us speak freely on that front,” Pifko said. “We were able to inject political stances on it and genuine intent.”

The pair said they took issue with the conclusion of the assembly, which featured several faculty members reading an open letter purported to have been written by an educator that went viral on social media as news of a walkout swirled. The message of the letter was that rather than walking out of school, students should walk up to classmates viewed as outcasts in an effort to create a more inclusive school environment, a sentiment both students said they could get behind. But Barrett and Pifko said they weren’t aware the letter would be read, and while they could agree with the overall sentiment, they did not appreciate that the letter had a condescending tone, and included the line “Gun control or more laws is not, and will not, be the answer,” and felt the reading constituted faculty taking a political stand.

“The message of the letter was inclusivity; we want to encourage our students to make positive connections with one another in order to foster a welcoming school climate,” Austen said.

The students were clear to point out they don’t believe in tearing up the Second Amendment, but rather have a simpler political message and goal to their activism, which they said they plan to continue beyond the already-scheduled upcoming national demonstrations.

“We feel that students should be educated on the truth about gun legislation and gun control in a clear, concise and accurate manner,” Pifko said. “I think we educated people. We’re trying to create a discussion among peers.”

A station was also set up in the school where students were assisted in penning letters to members of Congress to express opinions on gun control. Barrett and Pifko said they also are trying to organize a group of students to travel to Manhattan March 24 to participate in New York’s version of March for Our Lives, a sister march to one taking place in Washington, D.C., the same day.

“One way or another these shootings have to stop,” Barrett said.

Ben Zaltsman, the school’s student body president, said he thought the assembly went perfectly and struck a good balance between memorial and political activism.

“I think the entire service was well balanced,” he said.

Comsewogue High School Principal Joe Coniglione and Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Quinn did not respond to questions asking what was being planned on the 14th or how the day played out after the fact, but Quinn said administration was working with students on an event.

Maddy Glass, a student at Comsewogue High School, said in a text message that like Port Jeff, students in Comsewogue were encouraged to participate in the district plans rather than exiting the building, which included an auditorium assembly. Glass and about 30 of her peers were granted permission by Coniglione to exit the assembly at 10 a.m. and head to the gymnasium, where students observed a moment of silence and made phone calls to the offices of local elected officials to voice their opinions on gun control.

“I felt like the assembly got to what we needed to in some places, but not the way we really needed,” Glass said. “A walkout would’ve brought everyone together in a different way, but since our ‘walkout’ to the gym was only about 30 of us it still felt like students were divided.”

She said she also realized administrators were in a difficult position in deciding how to handle the day, and appreciated the efforts made to allow students to express their opinions. Glass also said she hoped the outcome of increased activism amongst her peers would be Congress implementing actions to stop mass shootings.

“I’ve never been the type of kid who loved school, but I felt like I had some safety there, and with all of these school shootings and knowing people affected by them, I don’t feel as safe as I used to,” she said. “And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

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