U.S. Rep Mikie Sherrill discussed gun violence, immigration and the economy at a town hall Monday evening at Montclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater.
“Discussions like these are critical to my ability to fight for our community in Washington,” said Sherrill. “We have an opportunity to respectfully share what’s in our minds and listen to our neighbors.”
Sherrill, who first raised the issue of rising gun violence across the nation and cited her work with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, was joined by Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens, and Bob Davison, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Inc.
Stephens said the county and the state are taking action to prevent gun violence by using data and developing relationships with other law enforcement.
“But the most important thing we can do is to have community-led efforts. We have to interact with the community on a regular basis. Montclair, I’m sure, has a very robust network,” said Stephens.
“The best thing to do is to reduce gun violence. By reducing gun violence, we would improve the overall mental health of the community with our children,” said Davidson, adding that children who are affected by gun violence experience depression and anxiety.
A member of the grassroots group Moms Demand Action asked the first question at the town hall, about the federal effort to end gun violence.
Sherrill said legislation is the answer.
“When you look down the list of states that have the lowest amount of gun violence, like New Jersey, those are the very states that have the best gun safety legislation on the books,” said Sherrill.
Sherrill said guns confiscated in Essex County come from out of state.
“Those guns aren’t originating in New Jersey. They’re coming from Pennsylvania, Texas, and even Virginia,” said Sherrill.
Efforts to prevent gun violence aren’t enough, said Sherrill, adding that “Until and unless it becomes politically more advantageous for a member of Congress to pass gun safety legislation than to take money from the NRA, we are going to continue to see this legislation undermined.”
One attendee expressed concern about people who support Donald Trump and his agenda.
Sherrill said the Republican Party has a “very slim” majority in the House of Representatives and some of her Republican colleagues are struggling to pass their agenda because of the “extreme right wing.”
“I think that is because people don’t like that type of chaos. It is a struggle because I think it is based more on feelings than on facts,” said Sherrill.
Sherrill said issues like climate change and immigration need bipartisan solutions instead of divisive rhetoric.
Sherrill also spoke to concerns about the future of the economy, emphasizing the need to enter into manufacturing and new technologies like high-end semiconductor chips, AI, and quantum bioengineering to compete with countries like China.
She added that helping the economy starts with access to a good education and jobs that provide economic stability.
“We’ll continue to build on all of these and hopefully continue that really strong job market, so we can expand and make the middle class more secure,” said Sherrill.
A member of the immigrant resource center Wind of Spirit asked Sherrill about her views on a bill reintroduced by other U.S. representatives to update a path to citizenship for immigrants.
Sherrill said comprehensive immigration reforms need support from Republicans and Democrats.
“I don’t see a pathway forward without coming together and having comprehensive immigration reform,” said Sherrill. “It has to have a pathway to citizenship for people who are here. You have to have border security. You have to address the root causes of immigration like international criminal syndicates in the northern triangle area. You have to make sure you give citizenship to DACA and [Temporary Protected Status].”
When asked about public education, Sherrill said she wants to incentivize funding for public education and supports the elimination of the state and local tax deduction cap.
Sherrill said that despite having some of the best public school systems in America, there is work to do to support good education to keep providing a high-end workforce in the state.
“The reason we have so many businesses located in the 11th district of New Jersey is because of the high-end workforce we provide. They cannot get a well-educated workforce like this anywhere else in the country,” said Sherrill.