St. Mary's County students plan to protest in Annapolis for improved gun control laws

Student efforts to win tougher gun control laws in Maryland are gaining new energy after the shooting deaths of five staff members at the Capital Gazette Newspapers.

Students plan a rally in Annapolis on July 21 where they will remember those killed in an Annapolis newsroom and pressure lawmakers — and especially Gov. Larry Hogan — to improve controls on gun possession.

“I don’t want another shooting,” said Jaxon O’Mara, a student at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, where a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed by another student in March. “And unfortunately that can’t be promised, that can’t be guaranteed. But I’m going to do every damn thing I can so no other community has to go through what my community went through.”

Students want stronger laws to keep guns away from children, prevent gun sales to violent people and require universal background checks for gun buyers, closing the loophole that allows people to buy weapons at gun shows without checks. And they want to vote out politicians who don’t share their goals.

The rally, where Capital Gazette reporter Selene San Felice plans to speak, the political lobbying and the social media campaigns are all part of an organized effort to make gun control a central issue in the November elections, said Michael Nevett, a Montgomery County high school graduate who is working with O’Mara.

“We hope Maryland voters consider gun safety when they vote,” Nevett said.

Among other things, some students want to see parents punished for failing to lock up their guns. The 17-year-old who killed Jaelynn Willey at Great Mills used his father’s pistol, officials said.

“We need to fix that gap so that parents can be held responsible for their guns,” O’Mara said. “No one was held responsible for Jaelynn’s death.”

The gunman who killed the Capital Gazette employees had a longtime grudge against the paper and used a shotgun he bought legally, despite his history of sending threatening messages on social media.

The national social network of student activists is sophisticated. They make teams to organize various events and group people based on shared ideas and interests. Plans form quickly and spread fast. Their bonds deepen as they meet up at protests or political events.

Nevett, O’Mara and Great Mills graduate Mollie Davis follow each other on Twitter, are friends on Facebook and make plans in group chats. They met in person at a memorial outside the White House for the 13 persons killed in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado and at a protest outside the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.

Since then, they have lobbied elected officials, including U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats. With the election just months away, students are setting their sights on Hogan, a moderate Republican running for re-election. He earned an A- rating from the National Rifle Association in 2014.

Hogan signed into law legislation that allows a judge to order gun owners to temporarily surrender their firearms if they're deemed a threat to themselves or others. He also signed legislation to ban bump stocks, which increase the firing speed of semi-automatic guns, said a spokeswoman, and to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence.

“These new laws supplement Maryland’s existing gun laws, which are already among the toughest in the nation,” said Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse.

But students want the governor to take more action, starting with meeting with students from Great Mills High School. They’re worried that his support of gun control measures will wane without the pressure of re-election.

“It’s important to know that he’s on our side 100 percent,” Davis said.

They believe student activism has pressured Hogan to support gun reform. And they’re keeping the pressure on him through his re-election campaign.

O’Mara said she has repeatedly requested a meeting with Hogan and wants him to release a questionnaire he submitted that won him a favorable NRA grade four years ago. She’s submitted formal requests online, followed up with phone calls and blasted him on Twitter.

“Are you kidding me? Do we need to establish a school shooting survivor day to get you to meet with the students from great mills?” O’Mara tweeted in response to a Hogan pun-filled tweet July 10 about #CowAppreciationDay.

Tweeting @GovLarryHogan has become almost a daily pursuit for some students, using the hashtags #HeyHogan and #NovemberIsComing.

Hogan’s staff have sometimes responded to inquiries, though the governor has yet to meet with students, they say. Davis, for example, received a call from chief of staff Matt Clark. Chasse did not say whether Hogan would meet with students or release his NRA questionaire.

Davis said she was comforted by Clark’s call but wanted something more concrete than an attentive listener. She wants personal reassurances from the governor that he’d fight for tougher gun control.

“It feels like he’s hiding from us,” said Davis. “He’s sending all these people to talk to us. I’m struggling to understand why he doesn’t want to talk to us himself.”

@Bhuang2012

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