On Friday, February 23rd, 15 students from City High and West High left school two and a half hours early to attend a town hall hosted by Senator Chuck Grassley in Manchester, Iowa. The students were part of Students Against School Shootings (SASS).
“After the recent Parkland shooting, the kids from the school stood up against gun violence,” said Wala Siddig ‘18, a West High student. “They inspired me to actually want to make change happen rather than just waiting for it to come around with no one doing anything. I was just fed up with all these shootings happening that I knew that something had to be done.”
The courthouse was packed with over 150 people.
“It felt really interesting. Like, really real. It felt like the first setting where I really felt like I was getting involved directly with my government,” said Mary Liebig ‘18 of City High.
Throughout the hour of questions and answers, students from SASS were able to ask Grassley two out of roughly ten questions even though they represented the majority of hands raised. City High student Edie Knoop ‘18 was the first SASS member to ask a question.
“I asked Grassley about whether or not he’d be willing to support a ban on AR-15s and other similar high-velocity weapons with large stocks,” said Knoop. “The energy and velocity of the [AR-15] bullet leaves a shock wave that shreds surrounding organs and flesh. It’s ultimately why many of the students at Parkland died even once they made it to the hospital.”
Grassley believed there were four things that could be done to prevent school shootings such as the one at Stoneman Douglas High School from occurring, such as banning bump stocks and having the FBI properly take care of tips like the ones received about Nikolas Cruz.
“[Grassley] refused to answer my question, even when it was asked a second time. That makes me doubt his commitment to our safety and well-being.” said Knoop.
Siddig was able to ask the second question from SASS towards the end of the hour.
“Senator Grassley, over the course of your career, the National Rifle Association has given you $235,907 and has given you a 100% approval rating. Do you prioritize support from the NRA over the lives of your constituents? Will you promise me, and the children of America, and everybody here that you will stop taking donations from the NRA?” Siddig asked at the town hall.
Grassley responded calmly.
“I was just reelected. I’ve got a six year term, so ask me that same question in four years because I’m not going to be asking anybody for any money in between now and then.”
Siddig pressured Grassley for a yes or no answer.
“I have always said to people I will take any money that is legal and not with any attachment to a power-minded code,” said Grassley.
Siddig believed that if Grassley was taking money from the NRA, he was supporting the deregulation of dangerous weapons.
“You can put the two together but it’s not very legitimate,” explained Grassley.
Siddig was not content with Grassley’s answers.
“I don’t think he truly answered the question,” said Siddig. “The fact that he said he ‘won’t be asking anyone for money’ instead of ‘I won’t be taking money from anyone’ shows that he’ll still be taking [the NRA’s] money.”
Ultimately, Esti Brady ‘20 doesn’t think it could’ve gone much better.
“I think the event went as well as we could have expected,” said Brady. “Grassley has been a politician for many years, so he’s gotten to know how to answer questions from people who disagree with him without giving much empathy or thought to what we’re actually trying to talk about.”
“I thought it was a good first group action, but I know a lot of people in the group were disappointed with how few of us got called on and how much he avoided actually giving us answers to our questions,” said Liebig.