During Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership Summit, a school safety panel — which was moderated by Townhall’s Guy Benson and featured family members of victims of school shootings, the deputy chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and a policy analyst — tackled the hotly debated issue.
While many family members of victims usually speak out in support of enacting more gun control laws, that wasn’t the case with Hunter Pollack and J.T. Lewis.
Pollack, whose sister, Meadow, died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, said he was proud to help pass Florida Senate Bill 7026, which allows programs to be created for retired law enforcement and veterans to go through an extensive training course before being sent to protect public schools in the event of an active shooter.
“When Columbine happened, gun control was the talk, and it was a big distraction,” Pollack said. “Then Red Lake happened. [They said] we needed gun control, big distraction. Then Sandy Hook happened. They fought for gun control, [gun control] was another distraction.
“Now, it’s Stoneman Douglas, it stops with us,” he continued. “Our schools need to be safe. We need metal detectors, we need single-point entry, we need armed guards, and we need more resources for mental health.”
Lewis, who lost his brother in the Sandy Hook shooting, echoed Pollack’s view of gun control not being the answer to school shootings.
“Honestly, it’s sad, but I think gun control is not something that the left really wants to push. I think it’s just a campaign issue. It’s just to raise money and get votes,” Lewis said, adding how Democrats have had power at different points of time since Columbine and did not pass lasting gun control legislation.
Lots of fantastic speakers coming up! pic.twitter.com/5jWaZUTl22
— JT Lewis (@thejtlewis) July 24, 2018
— Hunter Pollack (@PollackHunter) July 24, 2018
Matt Whitlock, who also serves as Hatch’s communications director, told the audience the importance of getting involved at the local level since it is local leaders who are in charge of keeping kids safe, using the recently passed STOP School Violence Act as an example.
“The STOP School Violence Act is an excellent example of what good, substantial activism can lead to,” Whitlock told IJR. “First, because it was the powerful voices of young people that helped pass the bill into law, and second, because young people now have an opportunity to work with their local leaders to ensure STOP resources are used in their own schools.
“The STOP School Violence Act is about empowering local leaders to tailor school safety programs to fit their specific needs, and it’s about empowering local communities to hold those local leaders accountable for using these tools to keep them safe,” he added.
Amy Swearer, a legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, pointed to how schools are the safest they’ve been in 30 years despite the massive coverage of school shootings when they occur. She cautioned, however, that simply citing the numbers is not always the best approach when talking to victims.
“To say that, it almost feels callous sometimes,” Swearer admitted.
Benson further commented on the rule he has implemented when writing about shootings: Give the perpetrator of such crimes the bare minimum coverage, focus on the victims, and highlight the heroes.
“People see the amount of attention that is showered on these people who perpetrate these despicable acts, and they’re like, ‘Well, I’m unhappy, I’m bitter, I have these violent urges, I want to do the same thing,'” Benson told IJR.
“We have a responsibility to report the truth, and it’s a relevant fact who commits an atrocity,” he continued. “I think downplaying their identity, their name, their face, and making them comparatively anonymous to the people whose lives they’ve destroyed is the responsible thing to do.”
For Pollack and Lewis, speaking about their loss and advocating for their solutions hasn’t been without its challenges from people, but they said it doesn’t matter what others think because they are on a mission.
“You just don’t let them get to you, we’re doing great stuff to prevent these [shootings],” Lewis said.
“No one can change my ideology,” Pollack told the audience defiantly. “My family and I don’t care what other people say. At the end of the day, we’re working to protect [students], and we’re not going to stop.
“Every day, I wake up with my sister in my heart, and that’s all I need,” he added. “No one else’s opinions matter to me.”