Town hall helps unite community

Addressing gun violence brings Mukilteans together
By Alex Visser | May 02, 2018
Photo by: Alex Visser From left, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo; Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds; Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson; and Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell answer questions about public policy on gun violence. The four officials took part in a three-panel town hall discussion in which Mukilteo residents joined with local leaders in devising solutions to gun violence. Photo by Alex Visser.

A bevy of words filled Mukilteo’s Rosehill Community Center on Thursday, as residents and local leaders came together to discuss potential solutions to gun violence.

The town hall was organized by Mukilteo City Councilmember Sarah Kneller, who cited as her motivation this year’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the 2016 Mukilteo shooting in which a 2015 Kamiak High School grad shot and killed three people at a house party, injuring another in the process.

The event was organized as three panels, each with a distinct focus.

Kamiak junior Niko Battle, who has helped organize local rallies and marches against gun violence, moderated the discussions, asking panelists questions before giving the floor to other Mukilteo students, who read audience-submitted questions aloud.

A mental health panel focused on the psychiatric conditions surrounding gun violence. This first panel was led by Rena Fitzgerald, senior program manager for crisis services of Volunteers of America; Alliance Counseling psychotherapist Cynthia Jolly; and Catherine Person, Washington state survivor engagement lead for the Everytown Survivor Network.

A discussion on school safety was led by Mukilteo School Board President John Gahagan, Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang, Kamiak Principal Mike Gallagher and Kamiak ASB President Ketta Davis.

A third panel on gun policy that looked at state and local perspectives was headed by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson and Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Cornell.

While recent mass shootings served as the event’s catalyst, the comments often covered suicide.

Fitzgerald, the crisis services manager, said about 78 percent of gun deaths are suicides, and outside of the 2016 shooting, every Mukilteo gun death between 2012 and 2016 has been a suicide.

More than 80 percent of teens who die by suicide kill themselves with a family firearm, Fitzgerald said.

She suggested that the important issue is how quickly one can acquire a firearm. She said that children as young as 10 can figure out how to assemble and use a gun.

“Don’t underestimate the power of YouTube in teaching your children how to do things,” Fitzgerald said. “Don’t minimize the threat; don’t pretend it can’t happen.”

Jolly, the psychotherapist, said providing mental health resources at public schools should be a priority. She added that children can begin pursuing their own treatment at age 13, but they may not be ready to tell their parents what’s going on. The issue becomes tricky once payment is involved, as children this young usually have no way to finance treatment without their parents finding out.

Liias, a Kamiak graduate himself, agreed that mental health is the most important aspect of gun violence, and he advocated for preventing incidents from happening above treating the after effects.

Earlier this year, Liias was part of a successful legislative effort to ban bump stocks in Washington state.

Thursday night, he said longer waiting periods for the purchase of assault rifles would discourage mass shootings.

He noted that handguns currently have such a waiting period.

The Legislature doesn’t always move quickly, Liias said, but constituents, especially young people, have immense power in bringing about social change.

“I used to believe the future was in good hands, but I’m increasingly believing the present is in good hands,” he said. “When the Legislature has refused to act, the people have used their initiative power to act.”

Leading that youth charge was Davis, Kamiak’s ASB president, who last month helped organize Never Again: Mukilteo, a student-led protest against gun violence that saw attendance by more than 200 citizens, and had guest speakers such as Liias, Gregerson and Cornell.

Davis also advocated for preventive measures, and felt increased security is not enough.

Davis said she and her peers often discuss what to do if something goes wrong, and that this discourse underlies deeper fears.

She said extra security measures actually contribute to an atmosphere of anxiety, which distracts from academic responsibilities.

Rep. Peterson echoed such sentiments, saying that more school funding should go toward hiring mental health professionals, and that there is not enough gun legislation on the books in Washington state or the country as a whole.

“If those kids are nervous, are anxious, aren’t learning, then the money we’re already spending is going out the window,” Peterson said.

Gallagher and Chief Kang said they saw great benefit in the extra security in Mukilteo schools in recent years, especially the addition of school resource officers, who are trained police officers operating in public schools.

Kang said the school resource officer is an integral part of any school, and that having a trained officer on campus increases coordination and safety with officers who may respond to an incident.

Gallagher, whose time as Kamiak’s principal has overseen the adoption of a school resource officer, emphasized the benefits of the relationship between the high school and Mukilteo police. He said increased communication provides reassurance to parents, students and staff.

That theme of community relationships transcended the evening, as comments remained respectful throughout the event. A crowd hush was interrupted only by bouts of respectful applause, and disagreement never amounted to contention.

Liias said in an interview that Mukilteo residents have mostly been united in targeting gun violence, and the promise of community conversation inspired his visit.

The senator added that state and local legislation can only go so far.

“We are not going to solve these problems without dialogue,” he said.

 

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