After the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history shook the nation on Oct. 1, the University of Maryland’s College Democrats chapter looked to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley for insight.
Gun control and gun violence have remained central political issues throughout O’Malley’s political career. And on Wednesday night, surrounded by some 100 students in Tawes Hall, he called on the younger generation to be vigilant in the fight for increased gun restrictions.
“You are blessed to have been born in a time where your country needs you the most,” he said. “So don’t give up.”
Organized by this university’s College Democrats and sponsored by Our Revolution UMD and Community Roots, O’Malley led a discussion about how to progress following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire from a hotel and killed at least 59 people and wounded hundreds more.
The town hall was created to help students deal with their frustrations and questions about gun violence, said Will O’Malley, this university’s College Democrats spokesman and the former governor’s son.
Martin O’Malley opened the event by speaking about his extensive legislative history surrounding gun violence. He reflected on the moment he heard the news of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers.
“When I heard that news, I remember telling my staff, ‘You know what, we’re going to do something on this,'” O’Malley said.
During his 2007-15 tenure as governor, O’Malley passed a policy creating new fingerprinting and training requirements for people purchasing handguns. He also issued a ban on 45 types of assault rifles and on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The Democrat also made gun control a central focus of his 2016 presidential campaign, advocating for universal background checks and even naming the National Rifle Association as the rival he was most proud of in the Oct. 13, 2015 presidential debate.
“I don’t know if anybody in the country has been in the trenches fighting for gun reform and gun safety legislation more than Governor O’Malley,” said this university’s College Democrats President Jake Polce.
O’Malley talked about gerrymandered districts backed by the NRA and the need for high midterm election turnout for Democrats to overcome this disadvantage, adding that the NRA’s support for and influence on the Republican Party has created an undemocratic incentive to redraw district lines and made it difficult for Democrats to pass stricter gun laws.
“Nothing is static in a democracy, and you can’t go silent on this,” O’Malley said. “When the public leads, the leaders follow.”
Students later had an opportunity to ask the former governor their personal concerns. O’Malley fielded more specific questions about how the U.S. Constitution, partisanship, gun accessibility, race and socioeconomic status factor into gun violence.
“The idea that students can approach a public figure with all these questions tells us that there is still a call and response that is valued in democracy, and that’s a positive,” said freshman biochemistry major David Polefrone.
This university’s College Democrats plan on hosting more town hall-style events throughout the year.
“We want to have an organization on campus that just gives people that outlet that they’re looking for,” Polce said. “There are so many people on campus that care about these important political issues and we want to allow them to get as involved as they want to be.”