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Young People Lead the Charge for Change

By Assembly Members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, March 16 2018 4:47 pm

Throughout history, the young people of each generation have stood toe to toe with injustice. The suffragists fought for a woman’s right to vote, culminating in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Civil rights activists embraced civil disobedience to protest against discriminatory laws, resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Women who were tired of falling victim to sexual harassment and assault, who were tired of being paid less than a man for the same work, took to the streets one year ago during the inaugural Women’s March.

Today, young people continue to lead the charge for change with the National School Walkout, a peaceful demonstration organized by students to remember the 17 lives lost in the tragic Parkland shooting and call for more comprehensive gun restrictions.

Opponents of the #NeverAgain movement say that teenagers should not be influencing policy, that they lack the wisdom, experience and intelligence to speak out on a serious topic like gun control. The children of Generation Z — the generation that includes our student population — are all too often written off as apathetic and self-centered, incapable of seeing beyond themselves and their screens.

Having witnessed the National School Walkout, where students in Monmouth County at Ocean Township, Neptune, Shore Regional, Long Branch, and Monmouth Regional high schools joined students around the country in the demonstration, we have seen how incorrect that notion is and how much we can learn from them.

While wisdom comes with age, it also comes with experience. The students in Parkland, Florida, have just endured one of the most horrific experiences one can imagine. Listen to these students. They are young yes, but they are hopeful and determined and not yet jaded. They are intelligent and passionate. They truly believe they will make a change in this world and when we hear these young people speak, we believe it too.

The passion, determination and sense of civic duty demonstrated by the students both in our own communities and across America Wednesday is truly inspiring.

We join you in your call for increased firearm regulations. That is why we are sponsoring several bills that institute common sense firearm regulations.

For example, we are sponsoring legislation that prevents individuals with an elevated risk of engaging in violence due to mental illness from causing harm to themselves and others by expanding the “duty to warn and protect,” requiring practitioners of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nursing, clinical social work or marriage and family therapy who determine a patient to be a threat to him- or herself or others to report the patient to law enforcement. Mental health care professionals know the signs to look out for and are in the best position to determine whether someone poses an imminent threat to him- or herself or someone else.

We have also sponsored a three-part bill package that prohibits an individual who has been convicted of animal cruelty from possession or purchasing a firearm; requires the safe storage of a firearm and establishing penalties for improper firearm storage; and establishes a process by which a family member, law enforcement agency, or teacher may petition a court to have a person’s firearms temporarily seized if they pose significant danger to themselves or others.

This is not the time for thoughts and prayers. This is a time for action. We must enact common sense legislation that keeps firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals who have no business using them and call on all responsible gun owners to keep their weapons stored securely. We simply cannot allow more innocent Americans to die in schools, in movie theaters, in concert venues at the hand of a deranged individual with an assault rifle. Enough is enough.

We thank this country’s students for organizing this incredibly moving and inspiring event. But we must not stop here. The young people of generations before you are passing on the torch to you and we ask that you embrace this noble responsibility. Continue to fight for what you believe in and in that way, make the changes you want to see in the world because after all, you are the future.


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