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Austin Students Tell Lawmakers About Fears, Plan To Keep Up Pressure For Action On Guns

Austin Price for KUT
Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett talks during a town hall meeting with Austin students about gun violence and the recent school shootings.

A couple dozen Austin students held a town hall meeting with local lawmakers at William B. Travis High School on Sunday to discuss ways to reduce gun violence – particularly at schools.

The event was a response to the call by Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg for town halls across the U.S. this weekend.

Seventeen people were killed during the mass shooting at his Florida high school in February.

The Austin students told Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Democratic state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez what it's been like to be in school in the wake of school shootings.

Conor Heffernan, a senior at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, said students are on edge.

“The week or the week before the Parkland shooting, we had three lockdown drills that lasted a half hour each – in three days,” he said.

Students said the Parkland shooting, in particular, has made them more nervous than usual.

Ari Miller-Portman, a freshman at McCallum High School, said her school held a fire drill the week after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“The shooter at Parkland pulled the fire alarm to get all the students out of the classroom,” she said. “Nobody [at McCallum] got up once the fire alarm went off. Nobody wanted to get up because we were all scared: What if this isn’t a drill?”

Students asked lawmakers to share their positions on policies to prevent gun violence ­– including universal background checks, as well as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Both Rodriguez and Doggett said they have pushed for those policies, but have faced roadblocks from their Republican colleagues.

Rodriguez told the students things won’t really change unless there are new lawmakers in power.

“In order for Congressman Doggett’s job to be made a little bit easier and my job to be made a little bit easier, we have to get more people elected that agree with our position,” he said.

Both agreed it’s a good thing students are organizing.

Doggett said the fight change on gun laws will require a lot of activism. In fact, he said, activists should learn from the National Rifle Association.

“Here are a small group of very committed people who are standing against the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to see simple reasonable steps like universal background checks," he said, "and yet they are successful."

One member of the audience told the crowd she survived the UT tower shooting in 1966.

“I watched my fellow students get shot,” she said. “I watched them fall to that hot, blistering pavement. I watched them die. I watched a policeman die. I watched an armored car finally come and protect those that were laying on the pavement and pick them up and drive them away. I watched them carry a body out of the tower. I can tell you – you can see from my age – you never get over it.”

Students said they plan to keep pressure on lawmakers in the coming months.

LASA student Jack Kappelman, who helped organize the town hall, said many people are expecting students to lose interest over time, but that things aren't ending with the town halls.

He said his group registered 300 new voters at the March for Our Lives rally last month.

“Almost every student who was at the march – if not every student who was at the march – has come into the new role that they can plan in their democracy that we've grown up in,” he said. “And because this issue is so prevalent for us, you can expect a new voting bloc to come out of this movement.”

Students have planned a walkout and march to the state Capitol on April 20.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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