Johnson County residents gather for forum on gun violence, school safety

LENEXA, Kan. -- Wednesday night  in Lenexa, both young and old sat down together to address gun violence in schools.

Johnson County MoveOn held a town hall against gun violence Wednesday night. The forum, held at the Shawnee Mission Universality Unitarian Church, included a panel and discussions about how to protect children in schools.

“We have our priorities really messed up as far as gun laws go,” said Lucy Morantz, a junior at Shawnee Mission East High.

Morantz and two other students, who formed “Student Voices” following the shooting at a high school in Florida last month, were some of the younger voices heard during the forum. They started the board to let their peers know their voices matter surrounding the topic of gun control.

“I think that having these forums and conversations won’t solve it all at once, but it’s a step,” Morantz said. “The more and more of these we have the closer we’ll get to the solution.”

Part of the conversation focused on gun control measures, such as expanding background checks and reducing or banning the use of assault rifles. One topic that stood out was the question of whether teachers should be armed at school.

“The solution to the problem is not adding more guns but rather restricting guns,” Morantz said.

Shawnee Mission school board member Heather Ousley agreed with Morantz.

“We have educators in the classroom to teach and nurture and grow our children,” Ousley said. “We have police officers that are trained to provide state of the art security for our buildings, and I want to continue to delegate that responsibility to our security team.”

Instead, students at the forum called for more training of school resource officers, preventing strangers from entering school property and re-evaluating their code red safety drills.

“Code red drills, I believe those are extremely ineffective,” Morantz said. “The huddling in the corner is supposed to be a chance for us to assess a situation and to decide if our best bet is to stay in classroom or run, but no one was told that until after students started feeling unsafe in school.”

Ousley said she is thrilled the students are speaking up and that their engagement in the conversation gives her hope.

“Our youth has the power to change things, and they’re telling us very loudly where they stand on this issue and it would behoove us to listen,” Ousley said.

Kansas House Democratic Leader Jim Ward, who also attended the forum, said schools should not be war zones and that communities need to start listening to young people.

“They want to go to a safe place to learn, and that’s a powerful message, and I think it’s resonating across Kansas and across the country,” Ward said.

Wednesday’s forum was a precursor to a nationwide event happening Saturday, March 24, called March For Our Lives. Organizers from JoCo MoveOn said they are expecting 8,000 people to march from the Plaza to Theis Park in KCMO.