WESTFIELD, NJ — Seventeen-year-old Summit High School student Ben Schachter was taken away in handcuffs Tuesday during a gun safety “die-in” protest led by local high school students at Congressman Leonard Lance's Westfield office. Lance was not present at the office at the time.
“We are organizing this ‘die-in’ at Congressman Lance’s office to get him to sign the resolution to pass HR 4240 to the House out of committee, which is the issue we’re facing right now,” said event organizer and Westfield High School sophomore Colin Sumner. “We are looking for him to do that so our lives can be better protected and it can be a safer day in New Jersey and this country.”
Lance is a cosponsor of the bill, which was first introduced on Nov. 3, 2017. The bill is designed to protect Second Amendment rights and to ensure that individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
About 30 activists were at Tuesday’s event, with the majority of participants staging the die-in on the sidewalk outside Congressman Lance’s office. Ten were permitted to demonstrate inside the office on East Broad Street.
The office, which is typically open until 5 p.m., allowed the activists to stay inside the building until 6 p.m. Staff members told the activists that the lights would be turned off and the office alarm system would be activated at that time.
When the majority of protesters inside Congressman Lance’s office left at 6 p.m., Schachter refused to leave.
“He made his choice and I am proud of him,” said his mother, Pam Schachter. “I’m incredibly proud of his caring choice to be here to use his voice for the safety of himself and other students and his willingness to take the risk by laying down in Lance’s office.”
“We have been nothing but gracious,” said Congressman Lance’s Chief of Staff Todd Mitchell, who explained that the staff was following standard procedure by closing and securing the office. “He can stay if he wants but the alarm must go on,” he said, adding that the Congressman’s office was not responsible for calling police and that, instead, it was property management’s decision.
Local activist Stacey Gregg questioned Mitchell’s judgment to leave Schachter inside the secured business and asked if the Congressman was made aware of the decision to close the office for the evening.
“He put it in your hands to manage the office and to do such a thing as to turn the lights off,” Gregg asked.
“He was asked to leave, he chose not to leave. I don’t think the lights being off are going to traumatize the child,” said Mitchell.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Westfield Police entered the office and arrested Schachter without incident. Schachter was taken to Westfield Police Department where he was released to his mother. Because he is a minor, no bail was required.