Imploring lawmakers to "give her generation a chance," 17-year-old Aalayah Eastmond inspired a standing ovation following her testimony Wednesday at the first congressional hearing on gun violence in eight years.
Eastmond told the House Judiciary Committee about her experience surviving last February's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and was one of several witnesses who called on Congress to pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8), which would require a background check for all gun sales and transfers—a proposal supported by at least 90 percent of Americans.
"Gun violence is such an epidemic that anyone, anywhere, at any time can be affected," the high school senior said. "Rich or poor, white or black, young or old. All Americans are at risk, and this is a side of America that none of us can or should take pride in."
"I implore you to pass legislation that will make us all safer," she added, naming H.R. 8 and a reinstated assault weapons ban as some of the reforms that could drastically reduce gun violence in American communities as well as mass shootings.
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 6, 2019
Eastmond also highlighted the fact that communities of color were suffering from an epidemic of gun violence long before the nation took notice of young people's demands for change in the past year.
"It is an epidemic that extends well beyond high-profile shootings," said Eastmond. "My family knew this long before Parkland. Fifteen years ago in Brooklyn, New York, my uncle Patrick Edwards was shot in the back and killed. He was just 18 with his whole life ahead of him. I ask that you give my generation the chance he never had."
In the standing-room-only hearing room, supporters including many representing March for Our Lives, the grassroots gun control advocacy group that grew out of the Parkland shooting, rose to applaud Eastmond.
Aalayah Eastmond, senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School & school shooting survivor, receives a standing ovation after testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on preventing gun violence on Capitol Hill: https://t.co/tHFPSARQws. Photos by Kevin Dietsch @UPI. pic.twitter.com/bmkLpvO1ko
— UPI Photos (@UPIPhotos) February 6, 2019
Very unusual in a congressional hearing: Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, just got a standing ovation at the end of her statement.
Nadler has to remind the audience they can’t make noise during hearings... https://t.co/Drlw5Y5pul
— Tal Kopan (@TalKopan) February 6, 2019
On the other side of the room, some observed, many Republican members of the committee had not bothered to attend the hearing.
Republicans can't even be bothered to show up for a hearing on gun violence.
Tells you everything you need to know about how much they care about a problem that kills nearly 40,000 people every single year. pic.twitter.com/VqRrF1IwJv
— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) February 6, 2019
@ all of the republicans who didn’t show for the #HR8 hearing today, you can’t hide for much longer. I hope you’re getting ready because we are just getting fucking started. we will end gun violence whether you believe us or not. #TheYoungPeopleWillWin pic.twitter.com/KrqxceDhcC
— laura (@laurathexplora3) February 6, 2019
Rep. Matt Gaetz of (R-Fl.) was among the Republicans who did attend, drawing shouts of anger from Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in Parkland, when he attempted to derail the discussion by saying a wall at the southern U.S. border who do more to curb violence in the U.S. than universal background checks. Gaetz provoked more outrage later when he tried to get Oliver forcibly removed from the hearing.
Trauma surgeon and gun violence survivor Dr. Joseph Sakran outlined why doctors are "uniquely positioned to understand and address this issue":
Every day, we are the ones that are on the frontline of caring for patients who suffer injuries from bullets...We are the ones trying to deliver data-driven solutions with inadequate research funding. And we are the ones that understand all too often that the best medical treatment for this crisis is prevention.
Gun violence is "a uniquely American issue and it is uniquely in each of your hands to help fix it," Sakran told the committee.
Ahead of the hearing, members of March for Our Lives as well as Moms Demand Action lined the hallway outside.
Judiciary hearing on HR8 https://t.co/Y3QbAAPHsj
— March For Our Lives DC (@MFOLDC) February 6, 2019
Moms Demand Action & #StudentsDemandAction volunteers are out in full force at the Capitol this morning, waiting to get into the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on #HR8, the bipartisan bill to #UpdateBackgroundChecks! pic.twitter.com/I07Glh5URe
— Moms Demand Action (@MomsDemand) February 6, 2019
On social media, the Women's March applauded the tireless advocacy of Parkland survivors and others of their generation, Moms Demand Action, and other progressive groups which helped to win Democratic control of the House and in turn forced Congress to finally take a step towards passing meaningful gun control legislation.
This morning, for the first time in 8 years, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Gun Violence Prevention.
— Women's March (@womensmarch) February 6, 2019