Senator gets gun-control feedback from Columbia students

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Maryland U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin visited Wilde Lake High School on Friday to discuss school safety and gun control with students.

The Democratic senator’s visit with about 50 students was part of ongoing discussions he is planning to have with community members in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., an aide said.

The discussion, which also included schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, County Council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and Councilman Jon Weinstein, focused on students’ concerns regarding their safety in school.

Cardin chose to talk with students at the 1,200-student Columbia school because of its recent experience with gun violence, according to spokesman Tim Zink. In September 2017 Wilde Lake teacher Laura Wallen was shot to death and her former boyfriend has been charged with her murder.

“I was extremely impressed by the energy level of the students. They had a great deal of interest in the subject matter, they were extremely articulate, they asked great questions and I found it extremely encouraging for the future of Howard County, Maryland and this nation,” Cardin said. “They are concerned about their safety, they are concerned about their classmates’ safety. They recognize that we have problems in this country, they want to know why we are unable to pass gun safety legislation.”

Cardin said the group discussed the congressional legislation the senator is pushing to pass, including an assault weapons ban, comprehensive background checks for potential gun owners and a ban on bump stock attachments that can allow semiautomatic rifles to fire rapidly.

The meeting was closed to reporters after Cardin’s office sent out media invitations, which were later rescinded. In barring coverage, the senator’s office cited “privacy/security” concerns voiced by the school system, which also did not allow students who attended the 75-minute meeting to speak with reporters at a news briefing after the session.

Cardin said when asked, students were opposed to President Donald Trump’s recent idea to allow teachers to carry firearms in school.

“The students who spoke thought that adding more guns did not help the situation, that they thought that would just add to the potential problems within the schools themselves,” Cardin said. “They did want to see their buildings more secure, but they thought that that’s not what we need, we need less guns not more.”

Martirano is set to have an open forum on Tuesday with Howard County families about school safety and security. School spokesman Brian Bassett said they are expecting close to 500 people to attend the meeting at River Hill High School.

The school system is in the midst of a security assessment and Martirano said he plans to reveal a comprehensive security plan at Tuesday’s meeting. Those measures could include increased police presence in schools, locking more school building doors and increased active shooter drills. The school system currently has two lockdown drills per year.

He said the school system is applying a three-pronged approach to school safety, including enhanced technology and procedures to secure buildings, increased mental health support for students and greater communication between the school system and community. However, he said there is no “silver bullet” to fully protect teachers and students.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks that say, ‘Well these things don’t happen in Howard County, we’re a different kind of community.’ News flash: Bad things happen to good people as soon as we let our guard down,” he said. “Violence does not discriminate against any age group, any socioeconomic group and no one is completely ever protected, you always have to keep your guard up.”

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