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Hassan to Hanover High: Student Activism Will Push Congress To Act On Guns

Lauren Chooljian for NHPR

Senator Maggie Hassan said Tuesday she believes student activism will be what tips the scales in the gun debate and pushes Congress to pass gun control legislation. 

Hassan was invited to speak at Hanover High School by the students who organized a walkout in March after the Parkland shooting, and she encouraged them to continue raising their concerns about gun violence.

“The fact that you are all speaking out makes a tremendous difference. Now, it may not feel that way at first,” Hassan said. “There will be some progress and then there will be some setbacks and then there will be some progress again, that’s also the way of a democracy.” 

Hassan told the nearly-packed high school auditorium that they should organize neighbors and friends who share their beliefs, and she encouraged them to tell candidates running for office this fall that gun control is a voting issue for them. 

The Democratic Senator said she was willing to work with students however she could on the federal level, but she suggested they could have even more impact by reaching out to community and state level politicians. She also encouraged them to run for office themselves. 

Students asked Hassan many thoughtful, yet friendly questions about how she and other Democrats could find ways to compromise on legislation to curb gun violence in such an increasingly polarized political atmosphere. The town of Hanover and the surrounding Upper Valley region is known to be a pretty liberal area, and many students in attendance identified themselves as Democrats.

Hassan was specifically invited by students to share her opinions on gun control. She said she supports expanded background checks, she wants to close loopholes that she said allows domestic abusers to access guns and she wants to restrict what she calls “guns of war.”

The Senator also called for each state to have so-called red flag laws that allow guns to be taken away from someone who exhibits “red flags” that they could be dangerous to themselves or others.  In response to a student question about what the “threshold” should be for people with mental illness, Hassan said she’d want to make sure the focus was on “somebody’s behavior not on their diagnosis.”

“We also want to make sure that any law that allows removal of firearms from somebody’s home, that there’s a judge involved and there’s a chance for somebody to challenge the action. We want to protect people’s civil liberties and second amendment rights,” Hassan said.

Hassan’s visit was organized in part by two Hanover juniors, Ella Chapman and Mason Winter. Both students also helped organize the walkout back in March, but Winter said they didn’t want their action “just to be a one time thing.” So they and other students sent 1500 postcards to New Hampshire and Vermont lawmakers, as the school serves students in both states. And when Chapman was in Washington, D.C. visiting colleges with her dad, she scheduled a meeting with Senator Hassan and asked her if she’d come to Hanover. 

Both Chapman and Hassan said they were impressed with both the Senator’s visit and the questions from their fellow students. 

Winter said he wasn’t surprised to see how many students’ questions seemed to favor the Democratic side of the gun debate, as “this is an incredibly liberal leaning school.”

But he and Chapman both said they hope students here will take Hassan’s encouragement seriously and keep talking about gun violence and getting involved in politics.

“Since this upcoming election and for the next four years, the students that are going to this school will be able to vote,” Chapman said. “We want our students and the other kids around us to be involved in politics, because it’s almost our time to start holding more power.”

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