U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin takes questions from students at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville on Friday. Credit: Bethany Rodgers

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin acknowledges that the gun control discussion is somewhat worn, with one call to action after another fading without significant progress.

But on Friday, he told a group of Richard Montgomery High School students that this time would be different.

Why? Because of them.

“Americans are with you. You have captured their imagination and support,” he said, sporting a Richard Montgomery T-shirt as he spoke to the teens.

Cardin said he was proud to be a Maryland representative on Wednesday, when an estimated 2,500 students flooded D.C. to press lawmakers for action on gun control. The youth movement has changed the conversation on the issue, Cardin said.

He told the student group that federal lawmakers must bar private ownership of assault-style firearms and require comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, including records on criminal and domestic violence incidents. 

Cardin fielded a number of questions from students, one about whether tightening restrictions on guns might result in an increase in violent acts committed with other weapons.

The senator said firearms are capable of inflicting more casualties than knives, for instance, and argued that there are simply too prevalent in the United States. There are 88 guns for every 100 people in America, he said.

Another student asked Cardin, a Democrat, how he plans to overcome Republican resistance to gun control measures.

The senator talked about the importance of listening and compromise, but said lawmakers who are unwilling to budget on changing gun laws should be voted out.

“Children’s safety should not be a partisan issue,” he said, later adding that constituents should hold accountable legislators beholden to the National Rifle Association.

About 200 students from social studies classes gathered in the Rockville school’s auditorium on Friday morning. During the event, Cardin repeatedly expressed opposition to arming teachers and school staff. Introducing more firearms to schools won’t solve the problem of violence against students, he said, and chances are slim that a teacher or security officer with a gun would be able to stop a school shooting.

“It’s a long shot. You’ve got to stop the tragedy before it happens,” he said.

One girl noted that she and many of her peers won’t be able to vote in the 2018 election. Many of those under voting age have already gotten involved by demonstrating and speaking out, but she asked what more they could do to make a difference.

Cardin recommended joining a campaign and perhaps supporting a local candidate in the upcoming election. He also encouraged students to stay focused on the issue and not to let the harried news cycle distract them from their ultimate objective.

“This time, it’s going to be different. We’re gonna pass something. We’re gonna get something done,” he said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.