Star Beacon: Progressive voters meet on gun control in Jefferson

Star Beacon | April 8, 2018

JEFFERSON — Mentor High freshman Elise Provident wore a bright red price tag on her wrist, marked $1.80 — that’s how much she and other Ohio students are worth in the “blood money” state lawmakers have received from the National Rifle Association, she said.

She and dozens of other area students and progressive-minded constituents voiced thoughts and concerns about gun control policy during a local March for Our Lives grassroots town hall Saturday afternoon at First United Congregational Church of Christ in Jefferson.

The town hall was organized by Never Again OH-14, a collaboration of regional progressive groups that includes area students now at the epicenter of the gun violence debate.

Organizers invited Republican U.S. Rep. David Joyce and his Democratic opponent in the November mid-terms Betsy Rader, an employment attorney from [Russell Township], to hear from voters. Joyce did not attend.

Several Ashtabula and Lake county high schoolers now growing up in a post-Columbine world did, however. For most, it was their first political summit.

“(Gun violence is) a reality that we’ve had to grow up with that I’m not entirely sure (adults) understand,” James Elliott, a Mentor High senior and the event’s emcee, told the Star Beacon. “You don’t fully grasp it until you’ve lived it.

“We were in school the day after Parkland. There was an air of tension. The halls were silent. Everyone was scared,” he said.

When the bell rang at the end of that day, Elliott said he and his classmates froze at what those otherwise innocuous tones could imply — “it’s a reality that we don’t want to live in anymore,” he said.

Grand Valley senior Hallie Cunningham said Saturday GV students didn’t participate in last month’s National Walkout Day, as the district planned to enforce disciplinary measures for ditching students.

Since starting an internship in Rader’s office, she said she’s becoming more politically motivated to air these issues.

She said Ashtabula County residents are “open” about gun ownership, and “you can’t take that away, which isn’t what we’re trying to do.”

She asked Rader about additional funding opportunities for smaller police departments like Orwell’s to provide increased school presence — “since I’ve stared high school, there’s been none,” she said.

When the Chardon High School shooting occurred in 2012, GV and other schools in the area locked down. Cunningham’s teacher told her, “he could come to our school next,” she said. Cunningham instead worried about her three younger brothers, she said.

“They shouldn’t have to be worrying about their safety. I shouldn’t have to be worrying about my safety,” she said.

Provident’s “blood money” price tag references the NRA’s donations over the years to Ohio lawmakers’ campaigns. According to recent data on the NRA’s campaign donations or advertising support from the Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine.com:

  • Republican Sen. Rob Portman has received almost $20,000, sixth-highest among state lawmakers, and the NRA has spent more than $3 million in support of Portman.
  • Joyce has received $9,500, 11th highest among state lawmakers, and the NRA has spent about $38,000 in support of Joyce.
  • In contrast, the NRA has spent more than $1 million opposing Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

During the town hall, Rader said she doesn’t accept any NRA funding, to applause. Grassroots gun legislation group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — several members of which attended Saturday’s rally — named Rader a “common sense” gun safety candidate, she said.

“I think everybody wants guns to be out of the hands of criminals and terrorists. Everyone wants their kids to be safe,” Rader said. “So why can’t we come together and have a discussion about universal background checks and implementing that? Why in the world is the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) not allowed to study the causes of gun violence?

“These really should not be controversial or partisan issues.”

For Eastlake councilman Jason Kasunick, the issue hits closer to home. Kasunick said his “dear friend” was shot dead in his Akron home by an unknown assailant in December.

“He was a Libertarian sort — he was all for gun rights,” he told the church hall. “He thought he needed a gun. There’s this marketing — we think of it as a ‘circle of death.’ People get more guns, which cause more deaths, which makes people think they need more guns. … It’s a big circle.

“It’s really a big marketing scam. What can we do to educate people that gun control works?”

Saturday’s town hall was also Lakeside senior Jessica Bumgarner’s first public town hall. Bumgarner and other Ashtabula students organized the school’s walkout last month, as well as a memorial service for the 17 Parkland shooting victims.

“The (Parkland) shooting was really a pivotal moment for all of us. It was the moment we realized this could happen to us, it could happen to our friends,” she told the Star Beacon. “(Saturday’s) turnout was incredible. … I think everyone here was so supportive.

“There was a great vibe in the air. There was a great energy.”

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