The White Plains Examiner

Lowey Calls on Students, Police to Talk School Safety

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More than a dozen high school students from around Westchester County and officers from local police departments joined Rep. Nita Lowey in White Plains Feb. 23 for a roundtable discussion on gun violence and how schools can be made safer.

Westchester high school students and local law enforcement joined Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) for a gun violence and prevention forum last Friday in the wake of the Florida high school massacre that killed 17 people.

Lowey invited students to discuss the controversial issue after Blind Brook High School students Kevin O’Neill and Ryan Bachmann reached out to her expressing their fears and frustration about gun violence in schools and communities across the nation.

The issue has once again been pushed to the forefront after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“This is the headline in every newspaper, in every news program, and I know from my perspective I am tired of standing in Congress for a moment of silence to remember victims,” Lowey said. “It’s time for us to do something about it.”

Throughout the hour-long discussion held at the White Plains Public Library, students discussed the need for practical gun safety reform, gun violence prevention, increased school security and whether teachers should carry firearms.

Joseph Kennedy, a sophomore at Iona Preparatory School, said every student and faculty member must wear an identification card daily and all doors remain locked. He said the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012 forced his school to bolster safety protocols.

Frank Williams, director of the White Plains Youth Bureau, added that the White Plains School District constantly reviews and strengthens its safety measures.

Horace Greeley High School Junior Ari Silver said recent events has ignited a slight change in the Chappaqua School District. He said he wants more transparency between the student body and administration to address increased security concerns throughout the district, adding that it is too easy for anyone to walk into several entrances at the high school.

“I think there should be change because if we keep it this way I think something could happen,” Silver said. “I think we need more security, I think we need IDs and I think we need more checkpoints and I just think we need to be more open and students need to talk to the administration about this.”

O’Neill echoed a similar sentiment, stating how an intruder can enter Blind Brook High School if they look like a teenager.

“The thing that scares me the most is that not much has changed at all,” Bachmann said. “The change needs to start with the people buying guns and the school should make changes but there’s not much they can do when someone like that who’s so scary and so determined is walking in with such a scary weapon.”

Few students felt teachers should be armed as a majority agreed they would feel safer with an increased police presence. Several said that police officers are trained to handle a firearm and face an active shooter; meanwhile, educators should focus on teaching.

“As law enforcement we know what we sign up for and I know I signed up to protect you guys,” New Castle Police Officer Michelle Mazzacchi said. “We are trained yearly, multiple times a year and we signed up to protect, and a teacher signed up to help you guys further your education.”

Students felt strongly that there should be stricter background checks and guns laws and reinstatement of the assault rifle ban.

“That (AR-15) has been a popular choice of gun by most shooters in mass shootings that we’ve seen recently, and the same gun has been used in our military and is almost identical to the M-16 rifle and that is the most popular gun in our military right now,” Pleasantville High School sophomore Ryan Burton said. “How are we letting these weapons of war get into the hands of our civilians and why are we? It’s not right. Something has to be done against this.”

Lowey said the National Rifle Association (NRA) must collaborate with government officials to help devise sensible gun legislation or face the public’s wrath.

White Plains High School junior Nathaniel Garcia agreed that assault rifles should be removed from society. He acknowledged that most gun owners use AR-15 rifles for recreational use and suggested that shooting ranges make them available for rental so patrons can use them in a controlled environment without owning them.

Pleasantville Police Detective Morgan Cole-Hatchard added that gun owners should have to renew their gun permits. She said after an individual obtains a permit there’s no follow up, but circumstances could change during a person’s life that should require a renewal process.

Lowey encouraged students to bring their concerns to school officials in their districts to press for change so their focus can remain on their education instead of safety. She said she would bring their suggestions to Washington in an effort to end the nation’s gun crisis.

“I am hoping that at least the background checks issue, the assault weapon rifle issue can be dealt with in this Congress and that members will have a backbone and stand up to the NRA because unfortunately money is too powerful a weapon,” Lowey said.

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