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While everybody's talking about gun violence in schools, he's visiting to listen

These Bellingham students rallied at City Hall to protest gun violence in schools

High school and middle school students protest gun violence in schools on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 in front of Bellingham City Hall.
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High school and middle school students protest gun violence in schools on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 in front of Bellingham City Hall.

Students at Meridian High School are meeting Wednesday morning to discuss gun control and school safety with state Sen. Doug Ericksen, officials said.

Ericksen asked to talk with students at the school, Principal Derek Forbes said Tuesday.

"With the recent news from everywhere about school shootings, walkouts, protests ... we were told that Sen. Ericksen would like to hear (our) thoughts," Forbes said. "They asked if they could come and hear from students."

Some 510 students attend grades 9-12 at the high school, which is part of a district that serves the rural area north of Bellingham, east of Ferndale and south of Lynden.

"I'm just pulling kids together. I really want it to be a productive conversation," Forbes said.

Ericksen, a Ferndale Republican, said his plan was to start a discussion and then listen.

"I want to understand what their concerns are, and their solutions," Ericksen said. "I think it's important to listen to our youth on this issue."

Forbes said about 20 students will be attending Wednesday, with about half of them asking to be included and about half of them recommended by teachers.

There's been a renewed focus across the country on gun violence, gun control and school safety since October’s mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert that killed 58 people and the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

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State Sen. Doug Ericksen answers a question during a 2017 town hall meeting at Meridian High School in Laurel. Wednesday he is meeting with students at Meridian High School to discuss gun control and school safety. Paul Conrad For The Bellingham Herald

Washington state recently outlawed "bump stock" devices, which make a semiautomatic rifle fire quickly, like an automatic gun.

Ericksen voted no on the original Senate Bill 5992 and voted yes on final passage as amended by the House. The House added new provisions to the legislation including a $150 buy-back program. No votes were taken on banning any type of weapon or raising the age for purchasing certain types of firearms.

State lawmakers are also considering other measures that supporters say will reduce gun violence, including tougher background checks and raising the age to 21 for purchase of semiautomatic rifles and some shotguns. That bill is undergoing discussion in a Senate committee, according to an online legislative post.

Meanwhile, students in Bellingham and around the nation have organized and led walkouts and rallies that focused on school safety and gun violence.

Some 2,000 people attended a student-led rally in Bellingham on Feb. 21, a week after the Parkland slayings. Students at Bellingham schools had a more low-key observance for the National School Walkout on March 14.

Two more nationwide protests — with local companion marches — are set to take place on March 24 and on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine, Colorado, school shooting.

Despite the widespread student interest in Bellingham, Meridian students haven't organized around the issue, Forbes said. He said that might be partly because of Meridian's geographic distance from Bellingham.

"We had rumblings of kids wondering if the students were going to do anything," he said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

Erickson's vote was corrected March 21, 2018.

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