Marching on: Freeport students continue the campaign to end gun violence

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FREEPORT — Students across the nation protested gun violence last month by participating in March for Our Lives demonstrations.

For some, the action didn’t stop there.

After attending a public hearing earlier this month in Augusta for a bill that would allow courts to prevent “high-risk individuals” from possessing firearms, a group of Freeport students said they feel more compelled than ever to advocate for tighter guns laws.

“I just want to keep people aware of it,” high school sophomore Sadie Southall said  April 9. “After the march, it kind of died down … it’s important to keep it on people’s minds.”

While shadowing House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Yarmouth, on April 3, Southall, senior Maya Egan, junior Lucy Wing, and sophomore Rhea Fitzpatrick provided testimony in favor of the protection law.

“There was a huge crowd of people, both people for and against it and a lot of tension in between,” Southall. Some of the 61 written testimonies added to the record were from students in York and Camden, who also attended the hearing to advocate for the bill.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, was referred to the Judiciary Committee March 27 and scheduled to go to a work session April 12.

If passed, it would authorize a court to order a person to surrender their firearms temporarily for 21 days, or for 180 days when it has been proven the person poses a danger to themselves or someone else.

“It’s really not a long period of time,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s sort of like a crisis- moment kind of situation.”

Under the bill, a law enforcement officer or relative of a high-risk individual could file a petition requesting the court to issue a temporary community protection order prohibiting the high-risk individual from possessing a firearm.

“This order would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, something we’ve tragically failed to do time and again. The process creates an opportunity to intervene before warning signs escalate into murder,” Gideon said in an April 9 email. “Our public hearing brought out supporters of all ages and from all parts of the state who agree on one thing – it is time to do everything we can to prevent gun violence.”

During the hearing, the four girls stood at the podium together, while Egan read a statement they prepared with input from Gideon’s staff.

“I have grown up in a time where school shootings don’t come as a surprise anymore,” their statement said. “… LD 1884 is a step in the right direction to put an end to the unnecessary tragedies that occur over and over again in our country.”

Some things the girls agreed were unclear in the bill as proposed were how the transfer of weapons would go, who would have the right to petition, and when a hearing on the individual’s ability to possess a firearm would be held.

“This is just the beginning of what could be a very long process,” Egan said. “I think there were a lot of compromises in the wording of this. … It was really interesting to hear the other side.”

Fitzpatrick said one argument she heard against the bill was that guns are expensive and owners would worry about whether they would be kept safe after being turned in.

“If you’re concerned about your $20,000 weapon, what’s the price tag on somebody’s life?” Fitzpatrick said. She added that many opponents of the bill said it infringes on Second Amendment rights.

“Unless you’re hunting people, it’s not going to affect you,” she said.

The girls said they also heard reasons for supporting the bill they hadn’t considered before, such as suicide prevention, which made them feel even stronger.

“I’d like to keep advocating for this whenever I can,” Southall said.

Fitzpatrick and Egan said they’ll both consider a future in politics.

“It’s great to see that my representative is being active in government,” Egan said. “… It made me really inspired to maybe run for office myself one day.”

Gideon found inspiration, too.

“I was incredibly impressed by the powerful words of our Freeport High School students, who bravely and eloquently shared their concerns,” she said. “Their resilience and activism should make us not just stop and listen, but inspire us to finally take action.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Freeport High School senior Maya Egan, flanked by students Lucy Wing, left, Rhea Fitzpatrick and Sadie Southall, testifies April 3 in Augusta during a legislative hearing on a bill that would allow courts to prevent high-risk individuals from possessing firearms.