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Students Meet With Rep. Neal To Talk Gun Reform

Josh Landes
Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) speaks with students at Pittsfield High School

Around the country, students have been planning walkouts and other protests after the school shooting in Florida last month. On Monday, students in Pittsfield met with one of the top Democrats in the House.

In the wake of a student walk out in solidarity with victims of the February 14th school shooting in Parkland, Florida, student activists who organized the action from the Pittsfield and Taconic High Schools joined Democratic Congressman Richard Neal of the first district in the Pittsfield High School library Monday to talk about political agency and gun control.

Makailey Cookis, 17, is a PHS senior who was involved in organizing the students’ February 27th walkout. Cookis says students from both schools are in a local Dollars For Scholars program — a non-profit community organization that helps high schoolers get scholarships for college. They turned their group chat into an organizing committee. What Cookis wanted from the meeting was to be heard by her representative, and “to hear his opinion and how he can help us further this movement because we wanted to exceed what we did last week with the walkout," said Cookis. "We want to now take it more of a state level, national level, where it’s like, what we’re doing can affect people all across the country.”

The conversation in the library mirrored the national sense of confusion and pain following a seemingly unending series of school shootings. Students expressed frustration with current law, repeatedly questioning the idea that mental health checks alone could prevent gun violence.

Neal maintained a middle path approach to gun control, praising responsible gun owners and calling for “common sense” legislation on assault rifles and background checks.

“We live in a time where there’s plenty of outrage, and I think the challenge for all of us is how do we refine the outrage into meaningful public policy so that something really good comes of this tragedy,” said Neal.

He was joined by Pittsfield School Committee Chair Katherine Yon, who applauded the students’ civic involvement and outspoken demand for change.

“Look at the difference the speaking out of the young people has made this time," said Yon. "It’s made a huge difference. I think it is an avenue. It’s not to sit back. You have opinions. Your lives are being threatened and you see that.”

Some students said they are impatient when it comes to change.

“I wanted to hear more about taking it a step away from state level and focusing on our individual schools — I think that, starting at a minor level and working your way up is the best way to go about a project like this, so, seeing what we can implement in our high schools locally and then seeing it as a statewide kind of movement,” said Cookis.

Other students took the long view of their meeting with Neal.

“I do feel good that he heard our voices and got an understanding of how we feel in Pittsfield, but I’m not sure if that’s going to carry into Washington," said Aviva Skoblow, 15, a sophomore at PHS. “We know what we’re talking about. We want change. And our voices are no less because we’re youth.”

Skoblow summed up the attitude of her peers in three words: “Angry. Passionate. Unafraid.”

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