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Helena Youth Group Introduces Gun Safety Legislation

Students at Capital High School in Helena walk out of class March 14, 2018 as part of what they call a memorial for the Parkland shooting victims and other gun violence victims.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
Students at Capital High School in Helena walk out of class March 14, 2018 as part of what they call a memorial for the Parkland shooting victims and other gun violence victims.

A week after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students in Helena formed a group to talk about gun violence.

It’s now a year later and The Helena Youth Against Gun Violence have introduced a bill into the 2019 legislative session they say will help prevent gun deaths in Montana.

I sat down with one of the group’s founders, Clara McRae, to talk about the legislation and the year since the shooting and the national March for Our Lives event that followed.

CORIN CATES-CARNEY: Your group became pretty vocal after the shooting in Parkland, and when you reflect on the year since then what comes to mind?

CLARA MCRAE: It's been crazy. I don't think any of us expected to still be really active in this movement, a year afterward, I think we all thought it would be much quicker and it would sort of wrap up after the March for Our Lives and all of our big events. It's very, very surprising that we're still here and we're still active in the movement.

CCC: Why are you surprised by that?

CM: I don't know. I suppose we sort of assumed, like with any movement, that it would sort of, not necessarily fizzle out, but slow down significantly. And we have only gotten more active and more involved.

CCC: Your group has work to propose legislation during the 2019 session. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

CM: In about May or June of last year. We decided that we wanted to get involved in legislation and see what we could do there. So we called up one of our local legislators, Rep. Moffie Funk, and said, 'We're interested in doing this. Can you help us out?' And we came up with the idea for a child access prevention law. And basically what it does is it places criminal liability on a parent or a person over the age of 18 if they fail to secure their firearm and a child gains access and harms themself or another person. It's been moving pretty quick. Today, we got news that it was assigned to House Judiciary Committee, House Bill 477. This is different than most gun bills, because it's not just coming from a legislator, it's not coming from the gun lobby or the anti-gun lobby, it's coming from students in Montana who have spent months and months and months researching it. We've talked to so many experts in the community about what kind of law would work and if any law would work in terms of reducing gun violence.

CCC: On your group's Facebook page it describes itself as a nonpartisan group. It is your proposed legislation and your group's movement up to this point received non-partisan support. You mentioned Moffie Funk who is a Democrat.

CM: We have probably met with the same number of Democrats that we have with Republicans. Obviously, just based on where the party boundaries lie right now Republicans are a lot more hesitant to wade into firearm related issues. But we've been able to have some good conversations with some of the more conservative members of the Montana Legislature. And we've taken those ideas into account and we've transferred them into the bill. And I think it's been valuable and I would say that we're still nonpartisan as far as that goes.

CCC: As someone who spends most of my time inside the Capitol, issues surrounding guns often get very controversial very quickly. How do you and your group overcome that hurdle?

CM: Well, I think we're still overcoming. It's certainly difficult and it's certainly not going to become a whole lot less controversial anytime soon. But I think a lot of us in the group have maybe moved towards the center of the issue, which is a bit surprising. Some of us maybe began with a more liberal ideology, some maybe began with the more conservative ideology. I think we've all become a lot more moderate in our views on the Second Amendment and just gun violence in general.

CCC: I've heard members of your group refer to yourselves as the 'lockdown generation.' What do you think that mentality will mean once you leave high school and go onto the workforce or college or wherever you end up going.

CM: I don't know. I do know that it will be fascinating to kind of look back on it and just really see the way it actually impacted a lot of us. There was an article that came out recently that talked about how just traumatizing lockdowns in themselves are, even when something bad doesn't actually occur. And so it'll be interesting to see if that translates in any way to how like Generation Z and younger Millennials operate in the workforce, I guess. I don't I know. I know it will have a lasting impact on most of us I would think.

Clara McRae is a Senior at Capital High in Helena and a co-founder of Helena Youth Against Gun Violence.

House Bill 477, brought by the group, would require the Montana Office of Public Instruction to create policies for gun safety education. It would also establish a $1,000 fine for a person convicted of leaving a loaded gun in a place where a child could access it.

The bill was introduced Thursday, on the anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HIgh school in Parkland Florida.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Montana had the 3rd highest rate of death by firearms in the country in 2017.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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