March 14th, 2018

As students of Ridgewood High School voiced their opinions about the gun control debate by walking out, sitting in, or doing neither, the RHS High Times Staff interviewed the school principal and varying students along a spectrum of political beliefs. Below is a full transcript of the interviews; answers are edited for grammar and clarity.

Filmed by Jessica Gonzalez and Lena Yannella
video producer, editor-in-chief

Interviews conducted by Lena Yannella

Edited by Jessica Gonzalez
video producer

Interview with Dr. Gorman, principal of Ridgewood High School

Q: What are your thoughts on the March 14th Demonstration for School Safety?

A: It was a very proud moment for Ridgewood High School and its students. It was just so great to see that students who were so passionate about their causes to take a stand and get out there and have their voice heard, so I’m extremely proud.

Q: What are your thoughts on the counter demonstration sit-in?

A: I wouldn’t really call it a counter-demonstration; it was just people with a different opinion on how some of the resolutions should go about. So, they actually paid tribute to the victims of the Parkland massacre. They also expressed that they want good, sensible gun laws, but they just differ on how they want to go about it than the other group. But today, both sides were non-partisan; both sides did not get into specifics of what they wanted to talk about because today was not about that. Today was about an anniversary and paying tribute to the victims.

Q: Can you name two or three things that you would like to accomplish by promoting the expression of students’ varying opinions on this topic?

A: I’m okay with them expressing their opinions in class, having intelligent debates. Kids are constantly researching their topics. They’ve learned how to debate in class; they’ve learned how to express their opinions, how to articulate their points in writing as well as verbally. So, anything we can do to help these kids move forward with their cause is great. And these are what the skills that they’re learning everyday in class that now will carry over to whatever they need to do in the real world.

Q: Some students have expressed concern that the school administration is taking a political stance by supporting the walkout. How would you respond to such grievances?

A: Yeah, it’s unfortunate that people say that. We didn’t do anything to support the sides. What we did was provide a safe environment, and that was our primary concern. We did set up microphones and things like that, but that was just so that the kids could actually do their speeches and everything, but also for safety reasons, if I needed it had anything occurred. Besides that, it was all student-led and all student-driven, and we just provided the opportunity for them to express their opinions. 

Q: Are you concerned that this will set a precedent that students can walk out over any hot button issue? What if another students wants to walk out because he thinks we need to build a border wall? Since the administration is not punishing students that walk out, does this set a precedent that the administration has to condone walkouts for all types of political speech?

A: You always worry about those things; it can be a slippery slope. But the 1st Amendment is protected, and the students do have the right to protest anything they want to protest, and they can even walk out. However, there’s a fine line. When it becomes disrespectful, when it disrupts the climate of the school and things like that, that’s when the administration does have the right to stop things like that. So, am I concerned? I guess in the back of my mind, I guess I am a little bit. But this one was one of those rare moments that everybody was united. Everybody believes in safe schools, and it’s something that’s pertinent to all the students. I don’t know if I’m going to have the whole student body walking out on border control or other things, but it could be; it could be. And then if that happened, then I would have to talk to the leaders and figure out how we handle this in a proper manner.

Interview with Claire Harris, co-leader of RHS Students Demand Action

Q: As an organizer of the walk-out, what is the goal of the March 14th Demonstration on school safety?

A: So, the main goal of the demonstration is not to repeal the 2nd Amendment or to get rid of guns as a whole, and that’s what a lot of people think this is about. But our main goal is to just increase our school safety and make sure that another mass shooting doesn’t happen again because it’s unfair that students have to go to school feeling afraid everyday for fear that their school could be next. And that’s just unjustified because this is a place of Education, not a place of violence, so that’s our main message.

Q: As a supporter of gun control, what specific measures do you suggest in order to prevent tragedies like the Sandy Hook Massacre and the Parkland shooting?

A: Well, I don’t want to put a label on the group’s views, but we think it’s really important that there just should be awareness about the signs that you should see in the type of person who is owning a gun. And the “See Something, Say Something” campaign, we thought was really important because especially in the Parkland shooting, these kids knew this guy was a dangerous human being, and they knew that he had been threatening the school. So, we thought if there had been proper restrictions to have him tested before he purchased his gun, or there was a background check put on him, or his social media and phone was checked, we think that’s really important in gun safety that people who are selling the guns and the local authorities are keeping intact on the people who own these weapons.

Q: Are you at all concerned that this will set a precedent that students can walk out over any hot button issue? What if another students wants to walk out because he thinks we need to build a border wall? Since the administration is not punishing students that walk out, does this set a precedent that the administration has to condone walkouts for all types of political speech?

A: I think it’s different because this is something that affects our school livelihood. It’s not just a political matter. This is a matter of school safety, and this is about the lives of our students. I think that’s where we kind of differ. As you said, “building the wall” – that doesn’t really apply to our school. I think because this so intensely applies to our school and affects the students being there everyday and the faculty, that’s why they’re more lenient and been more helpful in wanting to have us do this. I don’t think kids will use this as an opportunity to walk out whenever they feel like it because this is just such a different matter and such a more relatable school issue that’s plaguing us these days.

Q: Doesn’t your support of gun control directly violate the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution which says that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”?

A: I think that what we’re talking about is we’re not trying to infringe upon people’s rights to own a gun. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t own a gun. But also, when this law came to be in 1776, the type of guns that were created then that took 5 minutes to shoot one bullet when you can shoot over a hundred rounds of ammo in 30 seconds, I don’t think our Founding Fathers realize that this was how fast our society could move and how technology could advance that quickly. They weren’t thinking of a gun like that; they were thinking of muskets and pistols that shot off one round every couple of minutes. I don’t think that it’s a matter of taking away guns; I think it’s a matter of putting them into the right hands. Because I know plenty of people that owns guns and use them because they have bears on their property, and they have a dog, and their dog has been attacked by a bear, and the only way to get rid of that bear is to fire off a gunshot. But people who are buying these guns for the pure purpose of killing innocent human beings. that’s where it’s very different.

Interview with Jihan Vaghashiya, co-organizer of the RHS Second Amendment Sit-In

Q: As co-organizer, what is your goal for the March 14th 2nd Amendment sit-in? Can you name two or three things that you would like to accomplish with this counter-demonstration?

A: We wanted to prove a lot of points in this sit-in. There was a lot of confusion. The walkout portrayed not only the honoring of Parkland victims, but also the move against gun violence. Many other schools portrayed this as just honor of Parkland victims, so I made sure that we accomplished that we would honor the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting in our sit-in because there is no disrespect or any type of harm against them in any way. We share the same condolences with them. And another point we wanted prove across was that certain things that people are vouching for in gun violence like banning guns are something we don’t find too reasonable. We just think it would just be more of a problem that we would have to fix.

Q: How do you interpret the opening phrase of the 2nd Amendment which discusses the right for a state militia to bear arms? Do you think that everyone has an unlimited right to possess guns even if they have nothing to do with a militia?

A: No, I do not believe everyone has a right to unlimited arms. I do believe that there should be precaution; there should be gun checks; there should be background checks for those who want to have a gun. I believe that one who wants to own a gun should has to have the experience to have it. I do not believe that everyone should have the unlimited amount or should have a gun without any permission whatsoever.

Q: What alternative measures do you suggest in order to prevent tragedies like the Sandy Hook Massacre and the Parkland shooting?

A: I mean small things that I saw that that have been recently occurring like Walmart and a lot of supermarkets or big stores that sell guns or weapons – they’ve been recently upgrading their age to 21 now; you can’t be 18 to buy a gun. I thought that a fantastic move, in my opinion. I believe that if someone has restrictions on some small things like alcohol, I believe that a gun should not be handed to you until 21 if you can’t have alcohol by then. So, I do believe that was a great step and I believe that there should be more coming its way with gun restrictions that can allow people to be able to bear arms and at the same time have a safe environment.

Q: Are you disappointed that almost all the attendees of the sit-in were males?

A: No, I’m actually not really disappointed; I’m pretty proud of the guys that came out because we’ve been portrayed as the bad guys in this situation. We’ve had our posters been taken down, and our words have been fought against, and we’ve had the against us. So, all the guys that showed support and even the very few amount girls that came (I believe it was less than 10, I’m gonna be honest with you), I supported everyone coming out and having respect for what we were supporting because we needed every person. We were going up against a lot of people in this situation.

Q: Can you elaborate on your posters being torn down?

A: We created posters. We put them in a fair distance near the posters that represented the walk-out. We made sure that there would be no way of blocking the walk-out’s posters. So, we put them in ways that they would be seperated. And at the end of the day, students didn’t agree and one of our grade administrators didn’t agree, so they were taken down.

Q: Some students have expressed concern that the school administration is taking a political stance by supporting the walkout. Do you agree?

A: I do believe that is true. Some of examples that the RHS administration has been with the walkout is the announcements. Just yesterday, the announcement about the athletic record, there were some strong remarks. It even shocked my gym teacher when he was starting his lecture on body mass. It was nerve wracking. I do believe that it was something that needed to be spoken, and gun violence was said multiple times during the announcement. So, it clearly showed that not only do these people in the walkout want to have justice for the Parkland victims, but they want to push against gun violence, and the administration has done a fairly great job of supporting the walkout.

Interview with Laura Dever, member of RHS Students Demand Action

Q: Did you attend the walk-out today?

A: Yes, I attended the walk-out, and I was one of four students chosen from the Students Demand Action club giving a speech.

Q: As a supporter of gun control, what specific measures do you suggest in order to prevent tragedies like the Sandy Hook Massacre and the Parkland shooting?

A: One of the main things I care about the most is increasing the age of it. Basically, I think it is ridiculous that I will be 18 soon and that if I wish, I can buy a gun. I just don’t see any need in me needing a gun, and I don’t really see anyone in this area, like the Tri-State area, needing a gun. And definitely, mental health checks are so important because it’s not an easy thing to see and that’s why it’s just so important to look out for. And definitely, all the background checks. I think that there should be a lot more rules on making schools safer. Obviously, we added blue tape to the classrooms, but the truth is that a lot of things that are supposed to make us feel safer actually just make us think that it’s a possibility. And really, I just support making it impossible.

Q: Doesn’t your support of gun control directly violate the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution which says that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”?

A: The truth is is that gun violence is just so much more against the law than breaking that 2nd Amendment rule by not owning a gun. I feel like if you think of murder and bringing arms into places that they are not supposed to be in and killing innocent people, I feel like that is so much worse than violating a 2nd Amendment right. The truth is is that the world is constantly changing, and right now, honestly, it’s very dangerous, and I feel like one document cannot stand for the next centuries to come. The world changes; society changes, and violence has significantly increased. If we have to change our ways to make America safer, I think that a document shouldn’t really impact our decision to do that.

Q: Can you tell us about the experience of delivering your speech today?

A: So, I was very much shaking, and of course, it was freezing cold, so I was shaking even more. And then just once I saw everybody, I could not help but smile, and I could not help but cheer at literally nothing. And people started lifting up signs, and all of a sudden, I was only shaking because of the cold; I wasn’t scared anymore; I was extremely excited! And the wind made it quite hard to read a speech, but the true is, just seeing a sea of people that are supporting the same exact cause as you are and cheering you on as you are spreading your message is just one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever done.

Interview with Porter Tarvin, conservative voice at RHS

Q: Will you be attending the March 14th walkout?

A: No I will not; I will not been attending it. But at first, I must admit, I planned on it, and as I learned more about the walkout itself, the wal out page, that group of kids affiliated with the Instagram, I decided against it due to their mostly unorganized efforts and their very, not hypocritical in their stances, but their crossing over their own feet and kind of tripping over themselves. I figured it wasn’t a fight worth the time and energy to tell you the truth. But something I noticed was that the kids who did intend on being more pro-2nd Amendment were told to sit in in the Campus Center while the more liberal ideology kids were told they could walk out. I find this kind of funny because if the Press were to want to talk to kids and get quotes from the school as a whole, they would go to the kids on the outside, not the kids in the Campus Center. So to me, this kind of silences their voices as a whole for the pro-2nd Amendment kids being placed in the Campus Center as their designated space to protest. And I must admit, it’s not much of a protest when your held inside in a room when the more liberal folk are outside the school in mass numbers with a press that can reach them quite easily. So, I kind of had a bone to pick with that.

Q: Do you oppose gun control?

A: I do not oppose gun control; I oppose certain gun control. I think every right we have is limited to a certain extent. As you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, I can’t go get a gun and go on mass killings, obviously. I think there’s certain limitations to having a gun that should be put in place, but I think some people are pushing this too far and making it too radical to the certain point where the right is actually being infringed upon.

Q: What specific measures do you suggest in order to prevent tragedies like the Sandy Hook Massacre and the Parkland shooting?

A: I think just kind of, like, really easy stuff we can do right away. For example, we could put armed security at the school, and we could have more enforcing of… At our school, for example, we have the cards to swipe in at the front door. We can have that kind of universal and maybe use federal funds for that appropriated to the states, and then they could choose to do with it what they want. Because I know my needs as a New Jersey school resident won’t be the same as a kid that goes to Wyoming. They will have different needs to protect the schools. Personalize it from school to school. And as well, have metal detectors out front to make sure no one slips in with anything. And I really detest the whole argument that having these measures at school such as a metal detector and armed security will make it kind of a jailhouse. I think this is just an empty argument against the whole idea of security. I think it is a much more important factor to be safe rather than to feel safe. And as well, for Parkland, on the other hand, I don’t think our laws failed us to tell the truth as much as the people in power to enforce these laws. Because the police were called to the Parkland student’s home 39 times for the past two or three years. And the FBI had tips notices of him as well, but they kind of ignored them, and they admitted they dropped the ball on it even. And it turns out, we found out, that he told an old therapist a few years ago that he dreamed of being covered with kids’ blood at school, and as well, he desired to go and do what he did. So, there are obviously warning signs for him that could have been taken advantage of it, but they were ignored by the authorities, sadly. And it results in this kind of shooting, where laws in place would have saved us if they were followed.

Q: In Pennsylvania, a gun seller at a sporting good store or a Walmart is not permitted to ask whether a potential buyer has a psychiatric history. Do you have any concern that a psychotic person or a person suffering from paranoid delusions can so easily purchase a semi-automatic firearm?

A: I’m not so sure about the validity of that fact. I mean, I’m no expert in Pennsylvania gun law, but at the same time, I’m aware that all federally licensed firearm dealers are required to do federal background checks, all FFL dealers. And, whether the fact that that shows up on a background check is another story. But, if it’s just a store asking a customer that, I don’t see why they would have to do so if it’s covered in the background check, or I believe it should be covered in the background check to begin with, their mental history. As well, if I’m worried about someone walking in and buying a semi-automatic assault rifle, there is no such thing as a semi-automatic assault rifle. I think we should all be worried, but certain things can be put in place to mitigate the risk such as the GROs, the gun restraining orders, that involve due process of law to help someone who is in mental need be less of a risk to go do terrible things.

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