(NEWS CENTER Maine) — Our thought, from the beginning of this project, was to give voice to the people in our community that were most affected by school violence — the students. We knew it was the right thing to do because our community told us they wanted to hear an elevated conversation and not just the usual rhetoric. This project was to show the students of Maine we were standing up for them and giving them a voice — and boy did they use it.
Their voices were heard loud and clear. Some were scared, some were angry. All had something to say about the times they live in. They have ideas, they have possible solutions, why shouldn't we listen?
This group was incredibly articulate in talking about the very adult subjects of gun control, school violence, mental health and possible solutions for all.
► RELATED | #ListenToME |Meet the students
The forum started with a discussion about school safety; the kids expressed they were scared going to school. Nayan Sawyer, junior at Mount Desert Island High School, said growing up in a post-Columbine world makes things very different than previous generations.
'It's not shocking anymore. It's not abnormal. When you see it on the news, you say oh...another one. 17 people died...and it does not feel unusual.'
Carmen, one of our Facebook commenters thought arming teachers was a good idea.
'I would like to believe that there are teachers out there who are willing and able to go through professional training by law enforcement to carry and protect our students.'
As timing would have it, the topic during the forum shifted to teachers carrying guns.
Moxie McBrieairty, a freshman at Mount Desert Island High School, said she wants no part of teachers being armed.
► RELATED | #ListenToME | Giving Maine's teens a voice
'We change classes at the end of the first semester. I would be so nervous, especially coming in as a freshman, but not knowing these teachers and them not knowing you and knowing they have a gun on them? That would be absolutely terrifying to me because they can't even match my name with my face.'
One topic that seemed to strike a chord with the kids was a few seemed to know someone at school that wasn't getting the help they need. Lucy Wing, junior at Freeport High School, jumped right in.
'Being able to make connections with people, and build support systems from a young age, I think is vital in keeping people not isolated from the rest of the community.'
Gun control took center stage for most of the rest of the discussion. Bonnie Snyder, senior at Mount Desert Island said Maine has a history of hunting, so taking away guns isn't the real solution.
'If you want to go have a hunting trip with your family, that's fine. If you want to have a handgun in your house for protection, that's fine.
But nowhere do we need these AR-15 rifles that are simply made to kill as many people as many bullets that you have.'
Facebook poster Lock N' Load Maine threw some criticism NEWS CENTER Maine's way, 'You just proved me right. AR-15s. I knew it was coming.'
► FACEBOOK LIVE | Post-show discussion
The students got animated when we asked them what they would say to legislators if they could speak to them.
Bonnie from MDI said, '"I would ask them to not think about their sponsors, to not think about the people who aren't going to school. But think about the students that are going to their schools and think about what they are doing to keep those students safe. I'm disappointed in you right now. I'm a senior in high school, and I know enough to know that you aren't doing enough. And you have the power. If you don't do anything, how am I supposed to change it?'
Suzanne Hanvey, a freshman at Thornton Academy, said, 'I would ask them to stop being so blind. They can't see what's going on around them. People are dying. Lives are getting washed away like they're nothing. I want them to see what's going on around to make a change. I'm also disappointed in all the adults because we as kids have to take the power into our own hands. We should be focusing on school and not focusing on life or death situations.'
Facebook commenter Paul agreed with Suzanne. 'She's right, in one ear and out the other.'
Jeff Lane, junior at Freeport High School had the last word from the forum, and it was a poignant statement.
'There's a lot of stuff that hasn't worked. Can you just try to listen to us? Is that too much to ask?'
We thought it would be a good idea to continue the conversation with a post-event Facebook LIVE. We invited Tasha Hipple, a freshman from Casco Bay High School in Portland and South Portland High School senior Connor Mullen, to take questions from our Facebook feed. Tasha took part in the forum, Connor did not. You might remember Connor from a controversy during the 2016 elections when Connor wore a 'Make America Great Again' hat to school. Connor was criticized roundly for wearing the hat, but he stood firm in his beliefs.
Before the questions even started, Sandra commented on Facebook, 'I was so impressed with the questions the teens were asked, and their responses were so insightful and right on the mark. Great show.'
Connor was outspoken about school safety. He felt South Portland High School has a great school resource officer, so he feels very safe.
Lock N Load Maine asked the students if they thought taking guns away from legal gun owners would stop school shootings?
Tasha said, 'Yeah, I do think it will decrease the amount of school shootings. Although the people that own them legally and use them correctly, will not be (responsible) for school shootings...I just don't see the need to have that kind of gun.'
Connor said, 'I wouldn't ban (AR-15s), but I'd make them a lot harder to get.'
Some Facebook comments went after the kids a little. Some comments called the students 'naive' or 'uneducated.' Connor fired back.
'I haven’t seen (adults) make an intelligent point yet. Every kid has a different opinion, but they’re doing it because they’re scared for their lives when they go to school. So for them to hit us just for being kids that are scared — sorry I guess.'
NEWS CENTER Maine will continue this conversation Friday when Pat Callaghan visits Washington to show Maine's political leaders what these kids have to say. Pat sits down with Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, 1st District Representative Chellie Pingree and 2nd District Representative Bruce Poliquin, Friday at 6:00 PM.
► #ListenToME WEB EXTRA | RAW Video Part One
► #ListenToME WEB EXTRA | RAW Video Part Two
► #ListenToME WEB EXTRA | RAW Video Part Three
► #ListenToME WEB EXTRA | RAW Video Part Four