Sen. Doug Ericksen meets with Meridian High School students on Wednesday, March 21. (Ashley Hiruko/Lynden Tribune)

Wednesday visit touched on state and national issues

LAUREL — Ferndale state Sen. Doug Ericksen met with Meridian High School students on Wednesday, getting their opinions on gun laws and school welfare.

“If you feel safe here … (or see) things we could do better, I want to hear from you,” Ericksen said to the gathered group of about 15 students.

The senator reached out to the school district last week and asked if a conversation with students would be feasible. Some of the youths present volunteered to be involved while others were hand-picked by teachers for the classroom discussion on March 21.

Approaches to reducing school shootings — a national topic since the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school tragedy that killed 17 — were also discussed during the recently concluded state legislative session, Ericksen said.

A bump-stock ban, SB 5992, was passed by Washington lawmakers on Feb. 27. Ericksen voted in favor of the final version of the bill signed into law on March 6.

During the hour-long exchange, Ericksen shared his own experiences attending Sehome High School in Bellingham. “Kids still came to school with guns in their car,” he said. But the open campus of Sehome in the 1980s was worlds apart from the closed Meridian grounds of today. And the number of school shootings around the country has increased.

Meridian is unique among schools in the county in that just yards away from the high school campus and the newly constructed Meridian Parent Partnership buildings sits a Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office satellite facility.

When the discussion, led by Ericksen, broached the subject of equipping instructors with firearms, students offered strong opinions.

Some agreed that trained teachers equipped with guns could help. Others proposed arming veterans or volunteers instead.

“We shouldn’t be focusing on only one solution,” said student Rylee Marshall. “Something this big doesn’t have only one solution.”

It wasn’t long before students zeroed in on their thoughts about inadequate mental health support. “Students here are not getting the help they need from parents or other people,” Skylar Ruiz chimed in.

Others in the room agreed. “We need to get down to a smaller level and support mental health. Anyone who needs support, they need someone they can trust,” Alex McCormick said.

The last topic to be discussed, before a class-change bell rang, was what Ericksen called the “600-pound gorilla” — gun controls.

Ericksen, a self-proclaimed gun owner, brought up the possibility of raising the minimum age for buying a semi-automatic rifle to 21.

Student Nevaeh Whitemon, a Whatcom transplant, said students at Meridian High School have more access to guns than at her “city school.”

Others argued against reducing weapon access. “Guns, guns, guns. Guns aren’t the problem,” said student Austin Loisel. “The shooter is the problem. You can easily kill the person with something else.”

The senator said he had plans of going into as many county high schools as possible to hold similar talks. As of Thursday, March 22, there was no word on other school meeting dates.