Members of a Johnson County student group concerned about gun violence and school shootings finally had a chance to meet with Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder.
“I spent the discussion listening and taking notes,” said Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, on Twitter. “I learned a great deal about the impact gun violence has throughout our community.”
The list of the participants drew roughly 20 people, including teachers, members of the student group and people involved with a local shooting range. A former Columbine student was also in attendance at the event.
“If he really wants to make an effort towards us, if he really wants to make an effort to see what our movement is about and to change, then we invite him to do a public forum,” said Taylor Mills, a 17-year-old rising senior at Blue Valley North High School who attended the event.
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The meeting came during a roundtable discussion that went largely unpublicized by Yoder’s office until well after the event was over Wednesday.
Yoder's office did not allow reporters at the event, which was hosted by the Olathe Police Department.
Mills, a leader with Students Demand Action Johnson County, was among a group of local students that held “The Town Hall for Our Lives” in April as a part of a national movement to pressure lawmakers to enact new gun control measures in the wake of the shooting at a high school earlier this year in Parkland, Fla.
Yoder declined an invitation to come, but his spokesman said he would be willing to meet with the students, which led to Wednesday roundtable.
April Ma, a 17-year-old rising senior at Blue Valley West High School and a leader of the student group, said she was disappointed in a phone interview with The Star after the meeting.
The forum’s focus was on school safety and gun violence.
“It wasn’t as productive as we hoped it would be,” Ma said.
The students also said in a statement they felt that the discussion largely “deflected the issue of school shootings onto mental illness, changes in ‘the heart of man’ and social media.”
“This is is disheartening to us that the conversation could not discuss changing gun laws, despite our representatives multiple attempts to shift the focus,” Students Demand Action Johnson County said in a written statement.
Mills said Yoder needs to be put on the spot in public forum and asked tough questions about why he accepts money from the National Rifle Association and his thoughts on gun reform.
“I think until we get that, we really won’t be satisfied with him,” Mills said.
Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Fairway Republican who attended the event, said it had value and pointed to the wide range of people and opinions among the guests at the roundtable.
"Even though it was not a public discussion, and even though it was not covered by the media, I think it was an important step in moving the ball down the field on the topic," Rooker said.
Yoder said in his social media statement that he plans to review several legislative suggestions made during the event.
"At the end of the day we all want to keep our children safe," he said.