14th Democratic hopefuls talk guns at Batavia forum
The mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, was at the forefront of audience members' minds during a packed 14th Congressional District candidate forum in Batavia Thursday night.
Audience members supplied all the questions asked during the forum, which featured six of the seven candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the March 20 primary. The primary winner will face incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano in November.
A question right out of the gate asked whether the candidates support a ban on assault weapons like the AR-15 used by the Parkland school shooter.
Daniel Roldan-Johnson said he grew up in Florida and has a friend who still lives there and is involved with seven of the 17 funerals resulting from the school shooting. That friend never supported changes to existing gun laws until he saw the repercussions current regulations failed to prevent.
"Assault weapons should not be on the street and be accessible," Roldan-Johnson said. "But that's what it's going to take -- one-on-one conversations about this."
Victor Swanson is a teacher in DuPage County. He said the worst day of the school year is the violent intruder lockdown drill. He has to herd students into a corner. Then he blockades his classroom door. And they listen to a police officer fire blanks in the hallway and rattle entry points. Swanson said that's not what he signed up for.
"I did not become a teacher to carry a gun," he said. "I didn't become a teacher to have to stop a bullet for my students."
Swanson said he supports an assault weapons ban and making campaign finance changes to prevent groups like the NRA from having too much influence on votes.
Lauren Underwood said she supports "common sense gun reform," including an assault weapons ban to prevent the heartbreaking tragedy of mass shootings the country seems unable to stop right now.
"It is beyond time," Underwood said of her support for a ban. "Enough is enough."
George Weber said he supports an assault weapons ban, and he believes most Americans do as well. Weber referenced public opinion polls supporting better background checks for gun purchases and other gun legislation.
"I believe in the Second Amendment," Weber said. "But there were not assault rifles when they came up with the Second Amendment. That needs to be taken under consideration."
Matt Brolley said he supports both an assault weapons ban and a lifting of the ban on federal research on mass shootings and gun violence.
"This is not a 50/50 issue," Brolley said. "Most people agree on common sense gun safety measures. No matter who you are or where you buy it, go through a background check."
John Hosta urged against a "knee-jerk" response to the Parkland shooting that places all hopes on an assault weapons ban as being a cure-all for mass shootings.
"An assault rifle simply refers to a style," Hosta said. "If you want to do something about this problem, do something about the performance of these weapons. The performance needs to be scaled back."
Hosta said he would also focus part of the debate creating additional funding to improve school security.
Jim Walz was not present at the forum. He was the Democratic nominee in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren in 2016. In previous statements and questionnaire responses, Walz has said he supports the current gun laws and allowing universal background check programs to proceed. He also supports a ban on bump stocks and limiting high-capacity magazines.