Rock Bridge students host gun violence discussion

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COLUMBIA – Members of Rock Bridge High School’s Students Demand Action group hosted a forum Sunday where local leaders answered questions about gun violence and the status of gun legislation in Missouri. 

Community leaders in attendance included Rep. Martha Stevens, Rep. Kip Kendrick, and Health Policy Officer at the Missouri Foundation for Health, Jessi LaRose.

As Friday marked the two-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting, many acknowledged the importance in the timing of this conversation.

During the forum, Rock Bridge High School principal Jacob Sirna explained how the Columbia school district is adjusting policies to increase students’ safety. 

“I think Columbia Public Schools is absolutely taking this seriously,” he said.

Recent changes to school protocol at Rock Bridge have included reducing available entrances during school days, hiring staff to oversee the entrances, reinforcing windows to make them shatterproof and updating security cameras.

“There’s this really important job that we have to do to educate all the students that come into our building. And we cannot do that if we do not feel safe coming into a school,” Sirna said. 

In addition to addressing gun violence in schools, Stevens and Kendrick acknowledged their interests in various gun violence reforms.

“We have legislators that have filed legislation to address this issue: to get guns out of the hands of folks that are domestic violence abusers,” Stevens said.

Kendrick also addressed the possibility of using funds for Boone County Children’s Services to better serve victims of gun violence in the area. 

Columbia saw a sharp increase in gun violence last fall which prompted both community members and lawmakers to push for change, but LaRose believes more research is needed before preventative legislation can have a larger impact.

“There’s been a lack of funding over the past several decades to study the impact of gun violence," she said. "So with that lack of funding and resources, there’s some gaps in what is known about what legislation is most effective.” 

LaRose said the Missouri Foundation for Health recently partnered with the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research to work on closing gaps and knowledge in research. 

Audience members also actively participated in the discussion and were able to further the discussion by asking personalized questions to the panel of community leaders.