Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Taryn Hibshman would’ve been in the Holocaust study class that Nikolas Cruz shot into on Valentine’s Day had she not left school early that day.
Hibshman, 18, wearing a button with Nicholas Dworet’s face on it, one of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting, pinned to a maroon school spirit T-shirt, came to a town hall at UF to talk to politicians about gun law reform.
“There’s the inevitable survivor’s guilt,” Hibshman said. “I thought I could’ve stopped it somehow, but the plain fact is that he had a semi-automatic rifle and I was unarmed. No one could’ve done anything.”
Republican candidates, including U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho and Florida Rep. Chuck Clemons, declined an invitation to attend the town hall from a student group UF Stands with MSD, which is changing its name to Never Again UF. Republican Florida Sen. Keith Perry was one of the politicians in attendance at the event but came about an hour and a half late.
Among the candidates who spoke to the audience of about 40 were Amol Jethwani and Jason Haeseler, who are running for Clemons’ seat; Tom Wells and Yvonne Hinson, who are running for Yoho’s seat; and Olysha Magruder and Kayser Enneking, who are campaigning against Perry.
Alyson Moriarty, a UF biology freshman and event organizer, said she was told Yoho was busy with prior engagements.
“I guess he wasn’t interested in speaking about gun reform,” the 19-year-old said.
Julia Tiplea, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni and UF marine science sophomore, said elected officials should show up to these events.
“As elected officials, they need to listen to their constituents,” the 19-year-old said.
Kat Cammack, a representative from Yoho’s office, said the Congressman will be holding town halls in coming months but did not specify when those would be.
Clemons could not be reached for comment.
Moriarty said having current students from the high school like Hibshman speak makes the importance of gun reform more real.
“I think the emotional aspect adds to what they can do to change laws and gun violence prevention,” she said.
When one audience member listed Perry’s voting record on the issue, another yelled “Shame on you, Keith.” Perry said the animosity in the audience came from adults.
“I would’ve preferred the questions from students than from the adults in the room,” Perry said. “I think the adults came in, and they didn’t really want to engage.”
He explained the process of creating and approving legislation and offered to meet with people individually.
Toward the conclusion of the town hall, Hibshman said she wanted Perry and the other candidates to clarify their policies on gun reform. She said Perry’s answer about arming teachers was not clear.
“He went around the question,” she said. “But I respect that he was there in the first place.”
Hibshman, who committed to UF for Summer 2018, said those students couldn’t have done anything to have stopped the incident. She said she’ll continue speaking at town halls to make her voice heard.
“Now, we’re going to make change in the names of the people who are no longer here,” she said.
Politicians, including candidates for U.S. Rep. District 3, Florida Rep. District 21 and Florida Senate District 8, sat in at a town hall on gun law reform in the Reitz Union on Saturday. The event was organized by student group UF Stands with MSD, which is changing its name to Never Again UF.