'Town Hall for Our Lives' held by students nationwide to focus on gun reform

Paul Ryan's Democratic challenger Randy Bryce said he believes there are "commonsense things that we can do to make our kids safe."
by Chelsea Bailey and Vaughn Hillyard /

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JANESVILLE, Wisc. — Susanna Bucklin, a high school senior in this town of nearly 65,000, walked into House Speaker Paul Ryan's home office last week with a mission.

Inspired by a call to action from survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Bucklin decided to help organize a town hall on gun reform and to invite her local officials, including Ryan.

Days later his office responded to her request: Unfortunately, the speaker had a previous commitment and could not attend. But Bucklin told NBC News she wasn't deterred.

"A town hall isn’t a new concept but in the wake of all the recent tragedies it’s something that’s so important," she said, as more than a hundred people filed into a Janesville auditorium Saturday.

Across the country, students organized dozens of town halls Saturday under the banners of "Town Hall for Our Lives," a reference to the nationwide rally led by the Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors. They gave constituents a chance to speak with elected officials about the gun reform. Many attending blamed lax gun policies for the increase in mass shootings.

In some districts, cardboard cutouts stood in place of Republican lawmakers who turned down invitations. In others, Democratic opponents spoke directly their voters.

In Janesville, Paul Ryan's Democratic challenger Randy Bryce told voters he wasn't surprised by the speaker's absence.

“If he knows his polices are so horrible in D.C., I don’t know if I’d want to come back and face you either,” Bryce told about 120 residents gathered for the town hall.

He added that as a father and a gun owner, he believes there are "commonsense things that we can do to make our kids safe."

Meanwhile, town halls were also held in San Diego, Cleveland, and Austin, Texas.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Elizabeth Warren attended with Rep. Katherine Clark and state Rep. David Linsky. Lawmakers and participants at an event in Staten Island, New York, began by honoring the 17 victims of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas with a moment of silence.

Back in Parkland, Florida, Stoneman Douglas High senior Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, 17, asked lawmakers to remember that gun violence disproportionately effects minority communities on a daily basis.

"I'm here today because I need your help," she said. "We need everyone who wants safer schools to get involved and stay involved."

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz commended the Parkland students, and those across the country, for holding their elected officials accountable.

"If you doubted whether the next generation is going to be ready ... to step up and lead the way as the generations before them get a little tired — boy, did any of that doubt fade," she said to applause.

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