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IU students discuss gun control in wake of Parkland school shooting



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IU professor Paul Helmke speaks about gun control in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students for Common Sense Gun Policies at IU organized a roundtable discussion on gun control once they saw Parkland students speak out.  Emily Isaacman Buy Photos

Wearing a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sweatshirt, IU senior Jolie Lazar recalled the day she learned her high school had experienced a deadly shooting that left 17 dead. 

“Our voices are for the 17 that are not here to speak with us,” Lazar told the audience. 

It has been almost two weeks since Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This was the deadliest school shooting since 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

After seeing students from MSDHS talk about gun control, members of Students for Common Sense Gun Policies at IU decided it was an appropriate time to do the same. 

“We didn't want to rush to do it,” said sophomore Lilly Donahue, chair of the executive council for Students for Common Sense Gun Policies. “We wanted to wait until we knew more facts about what happened and heard the survivors' responses and what they're pushing for.”

Students for Common Sense Gun Policies organized a discussion on gun control in Ballantine Hall 103 on Thursday evening, featuring Lazar, an alumna of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and IU professor Paul Helmke, an expert on gun control. 

“We’ve got a problem in this country,” Helmke said. “I think we ought to try to do something about it.”

Survivors from the Parkland school shooting have used the event as a catalyst to push for greater gun control by speaking to Florida legislators and participating in a CNN town hall, among other actions.

“They're not letting it get out of the news cycle, which is really good,” Donahue said. 

Lazar said this is characteristic of her high school and its articulate, politically educated students. 

On the day of the massacre, Lazar said she received a text from a high school friend with a picture of the breaking news. She immediately texted three friends who still attend the school. 

One was in the school's freshman building where the shooter opened fire. 

After minutes of anxious waiting, Lazar said, all three friends responded. But she personally knew one of the 17 victims who died. 

The gunman used a legally purchased AR-15 rifle, a semi-automatic weapon made for military use. 

“This was due to a person’s ability to purchase an AR-15,” Lazar said. “My high school was as prepared for this as they could be.”

Helmke, former president and CEO of the Brady Center/Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said a lot of people don’t realize how weak gun control laws in the U.S. are. 

He cited the 1993 Brady Law, which instituted a five-day waiting period with background checks for handgun purchases, as proof that gun restrictions can be successful. 

“Gun control can work,” Helmke said. “People don’t walk around carrying machine guns.”

Helmke said requiring licensing tests for gun purchasers would enable stricter background checks, which he said should be required for all gun sales. 

The conversation should expand to gun risks, responsibilities and training, Helmke said.

“We have already discussed this more today than the U.S. Congress has in the last year,” Helmke said. 

Donahue started Students for Common Sense Gun Policies on campus in response to the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas mass shooting. The group advocates for policies that are realistic, but would still help keep people safe.

“We're not going to push for anything impossible,” Donahue said. 

Helmke emphasized gun control debates concern restrictions, not bans. He, as well as other politicians, express their support for the Second Amendment but do not believe those rights are unlimited.

Helmke suggested people do three things if they’re concerned about gun control: Learn the details, take action, and stay in it for the long haul. 

“Nothing happens overnight,” Helmke said. 

He said the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are setting a great example by speaking out. 

“I hope we can make a difference by not letting this just be another school shooting,” Lazar said. 

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