Youth Group Leads Gun Control Talk

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2018

New London — Those searching for common ground on gun control might find reason for optimism in the discussion at a community forum held Sunday afternoon at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

Although participants reached consensus on little, many in the packed church took what some considered a first step toward compromise and understanding one another’s views.

“Although I don’t agree with some of the statements that have been said, I’m hearing them,” said Lily Pelkey-Jacobson, a sophomore at Kearsarge Regional High School. “I’m hearing you all.”

Called “Guns, Rights and Safety: Searching for Common Ground,” the event was organized by the church’s high school youth group in an attempt to find balance between gun rights advocates and those calling for reform.

And over the course of an hour, audience members questioned a four-member panel of adults and students about topics ranging from licensing gun owners to arming teachers.

“The Second Amendment to the Constitution secures the right of citizens of the United States of America to keep and bear arms,” said Cohl Schuster, also a sophomore at Kearsarge.

The Founding Fathers wanted to provide citizens with rights to defend themselves, not only at home but also from tyrannical government, he said. That’s why, Schuster said, the government shouldn’t be in the business of saying who can and cannot own guns.

“People who know how to use guns and learmed how to use a gun should be able to,” he said.

That argument was welcomed by Don Wright, a retired Air Force pilot who also spoke against stricter gun control.

Wright advocated for arming teachers, saying initiatives to arm airline pilots appeared to be effective after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We have been criminally slow protecting our students,” he said, adding that gun-free schools are an “invitation for mayhem.”

While Pelkey-Jacobson agreed that students are endangered in today’s atmosphere of gun violence, she said concrete steps should be taken to further regulate firearms.

“I support a person’s right to the Second Amendment. I think we have a right to protect ourselves and bear arms,” she said, before advocating for stronger gun laws.

“People are getting killed every single day. Specifically, 96 people get killed because of guns every day in America and that’s just not right,” Pelkey-Jacobson said, citing statistics from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Sunday’s discussion in New London was scheduled well before the deadly school shooting on Friday in Santa Fe, Texas. But the forum coincided with the first funeral service for a victim there.

Services for 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student Sabkia Sheikh were held on Sunday at a mosque in Houston, the Associated Press reported. Sheikh was one of 10 people, eight students and two teachers, killed on Friday when a student gunman opened fire in Santa Fe High School.

The shooting was the deadliest since 17 people were killed and another 17 were wounded on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla. Survivors from that tragedy have since led nationwide walkouts and protects calling for stricter gun control.

Those school shooting deaths were on the mind of the Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

He tries to approach gun violence from a Christian perspective, telling those at the New London church that Jesus preached against violence and told his disciples to put down their weapons.

God is a more powerful and stronger force than violence, Hirschfeld said.

“As a Christian, I have committed to following that way, that path,” he said.

While they expressed differences, panelists agreed that more should be done to identify those with mental illness attempting to obtain guns, and find them help. Most also agreed that the government already does play a role in regulating firearms, and generally supported the National Firearms Act of 1934, which banned certain types of weapons, including machine guns.

Some students who organized the event said they hope it could serve as a model for lawmakers challenged by the same issues.

“We wanted this to be hopefully a format that we could kind of hand over to the government and say ‘Please, use this. We can find common ground.’ ” said Kate Kelly, a member of the church’s youth group.

Joseph Kealy, another student organizer, said the discussion appeared to be a success.

“It’s a very divisive issue, so I’m glad that we could sit and civilly have this discussion,” he said. “Nothing’s going to be solved in one afternoon, in one hour of sitting and talking.”

Community members in Lyme are expected to tackle similar issues on Wednesday as part of a public forum on school safety.

Participants at the event will discuss efforts to enhance and promote school safety in New Hampshire. Speakers will include state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, Rep. Mary Jane Mulligan, D-Hanover, Lyme Police Chief Shaun O’Keefe and Lyme School Principal Jeff Valence.

The forum begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Lyme School Gymnasium. Babysitting will be provided by the school’s seventh graders.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.