College Democrats host gun reform discussion with community members

The Q&A-style talk focused on changing policies and gun safety.


(Left to right) Boca Councilwoman Monica Mayotte, uncle of a Stoneman Douglas student who was killed Luke Sherlock, freshman at Stoneman Douglas Eva Frost, and candidate for Florida State House District 89 Ryan Rossi. They were panelist for a gun reform discussion at the Student Union. Destiny Harris | Contributing Writer

Destiny Harris, Contributing Writer

To honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, community leaders gathered on the Boca campus to discuss ways to end gun violence.

The FAU College Democrats hosted the April 4 panel, which consisted of Monica Mayotte, Luke Sherlock, Ryan Rossi, and Eva Frost.

Councilwoman Mayotte is one of the founding members of the Boca Raton Green Living Advisory Board since 2009. She recently was elected to the Boca Raton City Council.

Former public county school teacher, Sherlock, is a father, husband, and uncle of 14-year-old Gina Montalto, who was killed in the Parkland mass shooting.

Frost is a current freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who is involved in her community and actively pushes for gun reform. She lived in India for two years and visited eight countries, which she said gives her an international perspective on gun violence as well.

Rossi is a candidate for the Florida State House District 89. He received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from FAU.

FAU College Democrat President Marina Braynon welcomed the panelists as they made their way to the front of the room. Braynon then asked the panelists a series of questions.

Q1: Students have become the victims of America’s most horrendous tragedies, mass shootings like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, and Stoneman Douglas to name a few. With these incidents happening so often in our schools, places where children and young people should feel safe and able to focus on learning, what do you believe are the first steps we need to take to protect our students, schools, and communities from gun violence in a country where gun culture is so profound?

Mayotte spoke first explaining that, “Before we can enact legislation or change our elected officials, we need to make sure that there are the right numbers of student resource officers. We have an opportunity in November to change the house of representatives at the federal level and I believe voting is the best way to do that.”

“We need to make sure we have sensible gun legislation, background checks, mental health and gun safety intersecting the two.”

Sherlock expressed how his, “heart goes out to the young people today who have to go through high school, college, and even elementary worried about whether or not they are going to come home that night. That is not the society I want my children to grow up in.”

Sherlock admits he sat on the sidelines, knowing that more could be done regarding gun reform but was not as involved until it impacted his family personally. “The No. 1 thing that anyone of us can do is to get active and become vocal without hesitation.”

Sherlock added, “Ninety people a day are dying in this country because of gun violence. Since Sandy Hook, 7,000 children have died from gun violence, you have to stand up now.”

Frost added to the conversation by saying the “biggest thing our communities can do is not give up. I think we can do it because I’ve been in high school, I see how angry these kids are and it’s really not fair.”

Rossi said that as an educator, “You don’t think that you will ever end up in that situation ever but when you start going to the drills it becomes more realistic. I don’t think arming teachers are the right steps we ought to be taking right now.”

He believes that “It’s absolutely critical that we continue this conversation because it’s a partisan issue. We can do that because we’ve seen a remarkable amount of young people going up to the state capital and marching in Washington D.C. they have to continue to do that.”

Q2: Many critics of gun control laws believe that tougher gun laws will have no effect on the increase of gun violence due to the already vast proliferation of firearms in the United States. Do you believe that tougher laws will accomplish anything, when there are already roughly two guns in circulation for every American adult?

Rossi proposed that, “Even if the ratio is two firearms per person, we need to ensure that this is not the trend we set for our future.”

Frost agreed stating, “We can’t just take firearms away but I think we do need better gun laws. If we can ban private sales that decreases the chance that these guns are going to end up in the possession of a mentally unstable person.”

Sherlock explained how, “States that have common sense gun laws in place like criminal background checks on every gun sale, have 50% less gun violence. So there are simple things that can be done that are statistically proven to work.”

Sherlock emphasized that the community need to stop allowing extremists to run the narrative. “Now is the time to take back our communities and make it safer for everyone.”

Mayotte said how in 1996 the Dickey Amendment was passed and cut down the funding and shut down the research for data pertaining to research gun violence as a public health issue in addition to other research.

Mayotte pointed out, “There’s a lot of questions to be answered that nobody is allowed to do the research on. I believe President Trump has recently signed a bill to allow this research again but there is no funding for it.”

Mayotte added, “We need to get funding back to the CDC so they can continue this research so we can base our laws on scientific data.”

Q3: Do you think assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be readily accessible to the average U.S. citizen?

Rossi said, “No they should not be readily accessible because I don’t think that is what the point of what gun ownership is.”

Frost continued, “I understand that people have a right to defend themselves, but you do not need an automatic weapon to do that in any way shape or form.”

Sherlock stated that, “Banning one certain gun, is not the most effective method to end violence. For example, in the state of Connecticut the ban they had on one certain gun only made the gun manufacturers modify an AR gun.”

Sherlock explained how the more effective things that can be done are, “Limiting magazine capacities, red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, people who are mentally ill, threat to themselves and others, require criminal background checks, and requiring 21 year olds and above to own a gun.”

When speaking to Representative Brian Mast who is a Republican from the Treasure Coast area, Mayotte said, “I don’t agree with everything he stands for, but this issue, I agree with him on. Mast is a veteran of the Afghanistan war who lost both of his legs and he has come out and said that, ‘weapons of war do not belong in the hands of civilians in our communities’ and I commend him for that stance.”

Q4: What are some steps our elected leadership should take to ensure that our students are safe on campus and can focus on learning instead of whether or not they forgot to pack their Kevlar vest?

Frost stepped in by describing the school she went to in India which required scanning personalized ID’s and a metal detector to get through a double-sided gate. She firmly believes in an emphasis on school security in addition to gun control.

Rossi said how at FAU High School everyone including substitute teachers are required to have an ID before they let them in. Rossi believes these type of safety precautions are far more effective than arming and training teachers on how to use guns.

He added: “In order to protect our future going forward certainly closed campuses are something we need to heavily invest in at this point.”

Sherlock has started a Parent Safety Coalition at Boca Middle School where his son attends to be voluntary extra eyes and ears on the ground for security purposes. He urges for more parents getting involved and if you see something, say something.

He said, “There’s not a lot elected leaders can do because they face fines, being removed from office, and personal liability if they enact anything that even sniffs up a gun law. So we got too get loud, call up elected officials, and vote out those who are not for these changes.”  

Mayotte suggested that there are even simpler steps the community can take such as having local law enforcement park there cars right in front of schools while they fill out paperwork. Mayotte believes this could be a major deterrent on gun violence.

Rossi added his opinion that focusing on the students particular those on college campuses and universities where it is far more difficult to secure 30,000 plus students. Rossi thinks we should acknowledge those tragedies as well and believes there is a lot to be done at FAU.     

Q5: What are some of the actions we can take here, locally in Boca Raton, to prevent gun violence and advocate for safer campuses and communities?

Something easy and quick the community can do right now according to Sherlock is trying to, “Identify those troubled or outkast students and get them help now.”

Mayotte explained how “At Boca High School there is a program called ‘No Kid Eats Alone’ to help those who are feeling marginalized to help them be included.”  

Q6: What advice would you give to students that want to rise up and take a stand against gun violence, but may feel intimidated by groups such as the NRA?

A week after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Frost created a program where community members can type in a number and call to discuss their political views.

Frosts stated, “Fear to stand up against the NRA is not a good excuse to push new amendments. We need to stand up and unite because if we don’t then nothing is ever going to happen.”

Sherlock added that, “We don’t need to be afraid of the NRA because they are the minority and we are the majority. They don’t get to make the rules, we do and for some reason that got flipped around and we need to fix that.”

Mayotte claimed, “Ninety percent of Americans believe in common sense gun regulation.” In the state of Florida you can pre-register to vote at 16 years old.

Braynon then opened the floor to the audience members to ask questions. There were approximately 25 people in attendance including recent 2017 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Haliston Lake.   

Lake, a freshman at FAU majoring in political science, broke out in tears describing how she received a message from one of her friends at Stoneman Douglas and was involved in the shooting. Lake expressed she was relieved that her sister wasn’t in school that day but said her friend’s sister, Carmen did show up that day.

For the next 12 hours, Lake’s friend didn’t know where his sister was. She added, “I just think that gun reform is something that needs to happen but I think that it’s going to take a really long time for something to happen because it is such a polarizing issue. I think that something everyone can agree on is making schools safer and that can happen now.”

Destiny Harris is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].