While most Andover students spent Thursday, February 14, in classes, nine students took personal time from school to tour the state house and discuss gun safety with state legislators. Tram Nguyen, Massachusetts’ newly elected state representative, invited members of Asian Women Empowerment (AWE), an affinity group for Asian women on campus, and Never Again, a club dedicated to stopping school shootings and lobbying for gun control, to this student activism event for the one-year anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Under the guidance of the group’s chaperone, Lilia Cai-Hurteau, Chair in Chinese & Japanese, these students joined seven other public and private schools at the state house.
Some students were disappointed that the event did not focus on gun control as much as they thought it would. Never Again member Alana Yang ’21 expressed her desire for a more concentrated conversation about gun reform.
“I think what Rep. Nguyen’s purpose of inviting schools there was to have a discussion about gun reform, but I think a lot of the other reps didn’t communicate that clearly to their schools. A lot of it was more question and answer about other issues, such as education, the opioid crisis, as opposed to gun reform. So I think that could’ve been a bit better, but I understand that Rep. Nguyen did try her best to get the conversation going about gun reform,” said Yang.
Cameron Kang ’21 echoed Yang’s sentiments about the event. During the Question & Answer session, Kang asked about bills regarding background checks; she was answered with a “feeble explanation of mental health.”
“Yes, mental health is connected with this issue, but nothing was said about the actual weapons. Although Mass. has always had stricter gun control than other states, it doesn’t mean there isn’t always room to grow. This experience, although frustrating, was a wakeup call for me. [It showed] that states like Massachusetts can become too comfortable with their gun legislatures and neglect increasing regulations for guns,” wrote Kang in an email to The Phillipian.
For AWE member Nicole Jo ’21, the trip taught her about the inner workings of the government at the state level. Jo saw the experience as an opportunity to advocate about gun control.
“I decided to go when I saw the email because gun safety is something is close to my heart. There was a gun threat at my previous high school before coming to Andover, and I wanted to discuss with the senator and reps about what more should be done so that students can feel safe at school,” said Jo.
Like Jo, Jessica Scott ’20, board member of Never Again, believed that a main takeaway from the trip was the importance of advocacy.
“Even while it may not seem like your voice is being heard, legislators and politicians are always listening and working to represent you. Politics had always seemed very disconnected in my life which is probably since I am not a tax-paying or voting adult, but it was nice to meet and discuss with the people directly responsible for making this town, state, and country better for future generations,” said Scott.
Kiran Ramratnam ’22 decided to go on the trip due to of passion for law and change. However, she was disappointed with the representatives’ statements about environmental policy.
“One of the representatives answered that they’re working on making sure that Lawrence recycles because right now, the percentage of people in Lawrence who recycle is extremely low. But then, at the end of the day, when we were leaving and we were disposing of our lunch, there were no recycling bins in the State House. So I find that kind of weird that even though these legislators say stuff, everything’s much more complicated,” Ramratnam said.
Nevertheless, many of the students returned to campus with newfound motivation to push for gun reform in Mass. For Scott, she hopes to apply information from the trip to improve Never Again.
“Hopefully, I can incorporate my experience into my club by being able to represent and understand more points of view than I did before. While it was nice to meet the people behind local and state government, it was an educational experience that I can use in so many places,” said Scott.