MORRISTOWN, NJ - Following a massive turnout of over 13,000 people at last month’s March for Our Lives Morristown rally, the students behind the march organized an event called “The Town Hall for Our Lives.” This event brought together 11th Congressional District candidates who were questioned by student panelists about their views on gun control and how make schools safer. Those in attendance were Democrats Mitchell Cobert, Tamara Harris, Mikie Sherrill and Mark Washburne and Republicans Patrick Allocco and Martin Hewitt. The event was moderated by student Caitlyn Dempsey.

Bella Bhimani, who was the lead student organizer of last month’s march, kicked off this event and explained the importance of this type of event.

“While having so many people [at the march] was incredible, that cannot be the end of this movement,” she said.

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As gun violence continues to be an epidemic in this country, the student organizers invited all of the candidates who will be running for an open seat in Congressional District 11 to voice their opinions on this issue. While not all candidates were able to make it, those who did accept this invitation had a number of opinions on this subject.

First candidate to introduce himself was Morris Township resident Patrick Allocco. He started off by telling the story of a terrifying experience in which he and his son were kidnapped and held hostage in Angola for 49 days. He explained that this experience has given him both a positive and a negative opinion on guns because although it was at gunpoint that he and his son were kidnapped, it was also at gunpoint that they were rescued.

“I have two very different scenarios involving guns and two very different outcomes,” he said. “One was incredibly terrifying while the other was one of the greatest sense of relief one could ever experience.”

After each candidate introduced themselves, the panel of students began asking their questions.

Among the first questions asked was regarding a ban on assault rifles and if the candidates supported this law. While some of the specifics on how to put this law into effect varied slightly, all were in agreement that military grade weapons which were designed for battle, should not be on the streets.

Candidates were also asked if they had any affiliations with the NRA and how they will prevent this group from influencing other politicians. One student asked how they would respond to an individual who feels that they need a gun to keep themselves safe.

While all of the candidates reported that they have no ties to the NRA, their opinions on the use of handguns for personal protection differed slightly. Even though everyone agreed that guns should be kept out of the hand of “dangerous” individuals, some disagreed about the degree to which guns should be restricted and what the 2nd amendment actually entails.

Mark Washburne explained that while the 2nd amendment does give individuals the right to bear arms, society is very different today than it was when the constitution was first written. 

Overall, each candidate agreed that in order to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, laws need to be passed in order to prohibit special interest groups from contributing large amounts of money to political candidates in exchange for their support. There also needs to be stricter background checks, longer waiting periods and additional safety measures individuals must go through before purchasing a gun.

All also agreed that in order to prevent another school shooting there needs to be more mental health resources in the schools as well as additional safety measures such as security guards on school grounds. No one was in support of the suggestion made by President Trump to arm teachers.  

 The event was sold out and  those who were unable to attend were able to view the event live through a broadcast on the groups Facebook page.

For more information on March for Our Lives Morristown, visit https://www.facebook.com/MarchforOurLivesatMorristown/?ref=br_rs

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