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Vice President Kamala Harris Visits Southwest CTA

Highlighting the significance of secure firearm storage and safety laws

On April 15, 2024, Vice President Kamala Harris visited campus and participated in a public moderated conversation, focusing on the progress being made in an attempt to reduce gun violence within schools.

This marked Vice President Harris’ fourth visit to Las Vegas in 2024. Joining the Vice President as moderators for the event were social justice activist and executive director of Moms Demand Action Angela Ferrel-Zabala and actress Xochitl Gomez.  Introductory speakers included principal Donna Levy, SAMHSA deputy assistant secretary Sonia Chessen, congresswoman Dina Titus, and senior Raiyan Shafique.

“Today, we had the distinct opportunity to host the seated Vice President of the United States of America, the first female to ever ascend to that office, and the first woman of color to do so,” Levy said in her short speech. “We are happy to share this value with [her], and want [her] to know that [she] is now forever an honorary member of the Coyote family.”

In preparation for the event, heightened security measures were put in place on campus to ensure the safety of the Vice President. Security personnel and metal detectors were instituted to ensure that students possessed no contraband and upheld good behavior when entering the cafeteria and gym areas.

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“I was a little shocked to see a bunch of that equipment here at our school so suddenly, but it makes sense because it’s very important that the Vice President stays safe,” junior Maximillan Aller said. “I think that overall, though, it caused a lot of crowding in those areas. During lunch, I kinda stayed away from the lunch lines since there were large groups of people standing at the metal detectors for a long time.”

In addition to students and staff in the audience, representatives from external activist and government groups were also present to listen in to the proceedings.

“I thought it was really great to see so many organizations, along with students and teachers from our school, coming together to hear about a really important topic,” senior Ella Mengistu said. “Hearing the Vice President speak, it’s not an opportunity that many people have, or even one that I expected to have. I’m very grateful.”

The main highlight of the discussion was the significant impact of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety bill that has been passed within the last 30 years. The bill, passed back in June 2022, allocated $750 million towards enacting laws to monitor deadly weapons.

“President Biden and I are very proud that we could get this bill passed with majority bipartisan support,” Harris said. “Everyone, I believe, has a right to feel and be safe…and this bill was the first meaningful one in [gun violence and youth mental health] that’s been passed in a long time.”

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act also provided resources to schools to implement child and family mental health services, which include school-based mental health grants, lifelines and networks, and federal support.

“One of the things I love about Gen Z is that their generation is willing to talk about mental health and the need for support. Older generations still have a sort of stigma around it. Younger generations are so much smarter on this subject,” Harris said. “It’s up to those of us who are in a position to do something about it to make sure the resources are there for them.”

Vice President Harris also shed light on the importance of properly storing and securing firearms, citing the Nevada laws that were already put into place such as NRS-202, which highlights securing firearms for public safety, and NRS-404, which requires proper firearm storage when in the vicinity of a foster home. She spoke about planning to expand the laws regarding proper firearm storage.

As many as 75 percent of school shootings resulted from a gun that was not secured. Tragically, as many as 80 percent of youth suicide happened because there was a gun that was not supported.

— Vice President Kamala Harris

“It would be really nice just to feel safe in schools and to have another layer of protection with gun laws, just because it’s so easy to obtain a gun and the fact that the United States is notorious for having school shootings,” senior Hemoigne Sarmiento said. “I believe that that’s a very important problem. And I’m glad that Vice President Harris is addressing it.”

At the end of the discussion, Vice President Harris shared her own personal advice for the students in the room.

“For all the young leaders here who are thinking about your life, never allow yourself to be limited by others’ limited ability to imagine who can do what,” Harris said. “Don’t ever listen to people who are looking to upset you. Remember your power now…don’t ever let anybody tell you who you are. You tell them who you are.”

This story was originally published on Southwest Shadow on April 16, 2024.