Students from Parkland, Fla., visited North Dakota last week with the goal of starting a dialogue on gun control and to encourage people to vote.
Bismarck’s new mayor, Steve Bakken, attended the students’ town hall meeting and a pro-gun rally called to coincide with the students’ visit. Bakken said his attendance at both events was as a private citizen, not in an official capacity. It’s good he made the distinction, but it’s difficult not to view him as mayor. In fact, the students asked if the mayor was present and then invited him to ask a question.
The students are survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Valentine’s Day. They are taking part in the March for Our Lives’ Road to Change bus tour that began last month in Chicago. They have visited more than 20 states and last week were in Moorhead, Minn., and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation before coming to Bismarck.
The students want changes in the nation’s gun laws and have a 10-point policy plan which includes funding gun violence research, universal background checks, a high-capacity magazine ban, and limiting access to assault rifles. Most importantly, they want to start conversations about their plan and hear the ideas of others. They gave North Dakota students suggestions on how to be heard and how to go about seeking change.
The Parkland students knew they were in a state with strong pro-gun feelings. The rally outside their meeting venue reflected the strong support of the Second Amendment. David Hogg, a recent Parkland graduate who has become well known in the March for Our Lives movement, made a point of saying the students aren’t against the Second Amendment. Those attending the pro-gun rally probably had a hard time accepting that statement.
Two things are interesting about the students’ visit and tour.
First, they aren’t allowing the Parkland shooting and the overall issue of gun violence to fall off the radar. They are continuing to spread their message and trying to build support. It wasn’t lost on most people that the visit came on the same day as the newspaper attack in Annapolis, Md. It was a different kind of situation than Parkland, but it was still a reminder that gun violence can happen anywhere.
Secondly, they are trying to engage the public in conservations about the issue and to take action at the polling booth. The rhetoric of the March for Our Lives movement can be fiery at times, but the Bismarck visit showed a serious side of the movement. They were holding a conversation about a number of topics, obviously trying to convince others to adopt their policy plan.
Bakken didn’t agree with the students, but took part in a discussion with them. He noted he supported them for voicing their opinions. "Voices are where solutions come from. Everybody needs to come to the table and start the discussion."
Unfortunately, Bakken didn't sound as open minded on Friday when he appeared on radio show. He said he thought the students were “being used as pawns” by billionaire George Soros who finances many liberal causes.
Soros denies involvement with the students and the students have said they won't be influenced by financial support. Many of the students have graduated from high school and are young adults with the ability to think for themselves.
Still, Bakken's willingness to take part in the conversation is a better approach than what one attendee at the gun rally said. "There's no compromise, there's no middle ground.”
Taking that stance will result in no progress. The Parkland students and Bakken are right to encourage dialogue. A civil conservation is the best way to bring about change. It will take time, but the results will benefit everyone.