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Gun violence summit hosted by East High after classmate dies

Luis Garcia, 16, was shot near the East High School campus on Feb. 13 – he passed away from his injuries a few weeks later.

DENVER — A week after one of their classmates died, students at East High School hosted a gun violence summit at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver. 

Luis Garcia, 16, was shot near campus on Feb. 13. He passed away a few weeks later. 

The club Students Demand Action gathered a panel of lawmakers, city council members, Denver Public School (DPS) officials, law enforcement and researchers to talk about solutions so kids feel safer on campus. 

The students felt gun violence has come to a point that can no longer be ignored. 

"We thank you all for being here but we shouldn't have to be here," said the East High student leading the discussion. 

"I am incredibly proud that they assembled this assembly of decision makers and influencers," said DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero. "I believe we are going to have some solutions or at the very least constructive conversations today."

The conversation at the beginning focused on access to firearms and school safety. 

Denver Police Department's Chief Ron Thomas said many of the guns that find their way into schools are stolen out of cars or taken out of the home. 

"A car is never a safe place to store a gun," Thomas said. "If you store your gun at home, store it in a very secure place. I will give you a gun lock. I have plenty of them."

DPS said there have been 31 incidents involving guns on or near campus. Twenty of those involved a fake gun. Eleven involved a real gun. 

Just days after Luis Garcia was shot near East High the district said a student brought a gun onto the campus. 

"What are you doing in terms of securing those firearms? Not enough is what I am saying because clearly, we have confiscated enough from our students," said Marrero.

According to Marrero, a good portion of guns confiscated on campus came from the illegal market. 

East High School club Students Demand Action said their goal is to end gun violence by advocating for gun sense laws and candidates. Some state lawmakers brought up gun legislation introduced this session, including a bill that would impose a three-day waiting period for firearms purchases. 

A room of concerned parents, kids and teachers submitted more than 150 questions to the panel. Some wanted to know if there should be more police at school.

"There's not a clear benefit," said Dr. Joseph Simonetti, a researcher at the CU's Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative. "I know that sounds counterintuitive. Studies are not particularly compelling just yet...to say we know they prevent violence or shootings or even mass shootings, I can't say that with any certainty."

East High School's Principal Terita Walker talked about the number of emails and messages she has received from worried parents since the tragedy. 

"We have a conversation on Friday. We had to come back to school on Monday," Walker said. "What is going to happen on Monday? How do we feel better about the place we walk into on Monday?"

Some opened up a broader conversation about security - options that included cameras and connecting kids with trusted adults.

"We can have a very comprehensive conversation about security that goes beyond just officers," said Democrat Robin Kneich, an at-large member of Denver City Council. "I want us to listen to the whole question and the whole thing the principal is asking us to do and not just stop at one hot-button issue."

Another idea included investing more in the social and emotional development of kids. 

A panel had different ideas about how to prevent another tragedy, but all agreed every child should make it home. 

"We can't continue to be responsive," said Marrero. "A student will never feel safe and secure and be able to learn if there is that fear."

Luis Garcia's brother, Santos, came to the summit in his honor. He said he understood addressing gun violence is a complex issue but he was not satisfied with the conversation on Thursday night. 

"Who actually is going to be brave enough to help the kids instead of making it someone else's responsibility to keep us safe?" Santos Garcia said.



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