Parkland activists use town halls to keep gun-control movement going

FILE: David Hogg, a student in the debate program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks in support of gun control at the Federal Building-United States Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.
FILE: David Hogg, a student in the debate program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks in support of gun control at the Federal Building-United States Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. adiaz@miamiherald.com

If members of Congress haven’t yet figured it out, those pesky Parkland kids aren’t going away.

After leading the March for Our Lives in Washington, now they’re taking their call for action to the home turf of U.S. representatives and senators — pushing them to hold town halls on gun control while currently home on recess.

If they refuse, the Parkland kids and a group called the Town Hall Project, are urging local activists to schedule their own town halls. And they’ve created an online map the public can check to see who’s on board and who’s not.

The map’s more than 100 dots show the effort’s growing momentum.

The map also has the clever effect of shaming members of Congress who refuse to meet with constituents.

So far, only about two dozen representatives and senators have convened meetings or agreed to attend events scheduled by others. But those who resist do so at their peril.

Doubt the political muscle of this movement? Ask conservative commentator Laura Ingraham about her unscheduled week off after criticizing Parkland student activist David Hogg, who’d shared that he’d been rejected by four colleges. Hogg encouraged his social media followers to call out Ingraham’s advertisers. Several fell away. And Ingraham took a last-minute leave.

Depending on where they live, it could be risky for elected officials who oppose gun control to convene town halls and make a case for keeping laws as they are.

No one wants videos of themselves with people in their face, shouting them down. And if that person has lost someone to gun violence, there’s no winning.

Still, there’s a case for showing up and explaining yourself.

Sen. Marco Rubio initially scored points for attending a CNN-televised town hall a week after the Parkland shooting. Yes, he was booed for saying he wouldn’t reject money from the NRA or support a ban on assault weapons.

But when he appeared open to compromise on raising the age limit for purchasing rifles and limiting the size of ammunition magazines, he came across as thoughtful and someone who listened. It was only after he got back to Washington and reversed himself that his poll numbers fell.

Town-hall meetings are an American tradition that serve an important public purpose. They give people a face-to-face chance to talk to the decision-makers who serve them in Washington.

Sometimes they lead to showboating. But sometimes, they help build understanding and compromise — both of which Congress desperately needs.

To dodge an angry crowd, sometimes elected officials send staffers in their place.

Increasingly, they hold teleconferences or webcasts, which let them claim to feel your pain without having to see your face. We prefer down-home politicking where people shake hands and answer questions in person.

Ducking hard questions by muting people on the other end is a cowardly approach to representative democracy.

So be sure to remember the no-show public servants. Whether it’s explaining their position on gun control, or health care, or any other important issue we entrust to them, those we elect to represent us owe us in-person, face time.

In South Florida, the map shows that Reps. Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson — all Democrats — are among those who have convened or plan to attend town halls during the congressional recess. Republican representatives in South Florida and beyond haven’t been as willing to participate.

Outside of Florida, the map shows most of the events are scheduled for blue states, when what’s really needed is a 50-state discussion.

National polls show Americans widely support commonsense gun control measures, including tougher background checks on gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.

The Town Halls for Our Lives movement gives them the chance to personally deliver that message to those who can make it happen now — and to remember those who should be replaced in November.