Representative Underwood talks gun control, healthcare at town hall

By Kierra Frazier

U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood held a town hall for students on Tuesday and discussed how Congress plans to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.

The town hall meeting was the first one Underwood held specifically for college students. Topics such as strategies on how to enforce gun control laws and better health conditions at detention centers at the border.

Underwood, who identifies as a Democrat, has been representing the 14th Congressional District of Illinois since January, after taking then-incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren’s spot. Underwood is the first woman, first person of color and the first millennial to represent the 14th district, according to her district website.

Speaker of the Senate Ian Pearson said the 14th Congressional District includes almost 3,000 NIU students and more than 27,000 alumni. NIU is part of the 16th Congressional District, while Sycamore and parts of DeKalb are part of the 14th District.

Underwood said since being elected, she’s been working hard within Congress to protect the Affordable Care Act and push forward two gun prevention bills, H.R. 8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act and H.R. 1112 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019.

{{tncms-inline alignment=”right” content=”<p><strong>Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019</strong></p> <p>H.R. 8 passed the house in February and is currently in the Senate. The bill attempts to prevent unlicensed individuals from acquiring firearms.</p> <p><strong>Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019</strong></p> <p>H.R. 1112 passed the house in February and is currently in the Senate. The bill strengthens background check procedures to be followed before a federally licensed individual can transfer a firearm to an unlicensed individual.</p>” id=”7bff9d19-51db-4119-80d9-cc43d2404c6e” style-type=”info” title=”More Information” type=”relcontent”}}

“We’ve been working to expand access to healthcare — high quality and affordable healthcare — and protecting the Affordable Care Act to allow anybody, especially students who are under age 26, to remain on your parent’s insurance,” Underwood said.

Underwood, a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said this fall the committee will be considering reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

The Higher Education Act was passed in 1965 and has since been rewritten eight times. Reauthorization for the act could make changes to affordability and college costs and better information for programs such as student loans and campus safety, according to the American Council on Education website.

Underwood said she has spoken to NIU President Lisa Freeman and other campus officials about the act.

Pearson asked Underwood during the meeting how Congress members plan to seek an agreement on the act, given the various versions made throughout previous years.

“Funding colleges and universities shouldn’t be controversial,” Underwood said. “I don’t know what will happen in terms of bipartisan practice, but I am hopeful because we don’t have Democratic or Republican colleges. We have universities, community colleges and junior colleges that do great work in our communities.”

Students asked Underwood about gun control and how Congress plans to prevent gun violence in light of recent mass shootings in the country, such as the Aurora shooting in February.

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Eli Brottman, a junior mathematics and computer science major, asked Underwood how Congress plans to restrict gun ownership and gun transfers following recent mass shootings.

“How do we foresee a future of controlling gun ownership so that people who are dangerous don’t have guns, but also protecting them and not creating an image of discrimination,” Brottman asked.

Underwood said not everyone with mental health issues is violent. She said she supports policies such as Strict Risk Protection Orders, which allow family members and friends to let law enforcement know a person may be at risk of harming others or themselves.

“We have pretty strict gun laws in our state, but most of the violence that we experience here in Illinois is bought by a firearm from a different state,” Underwood said.

On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated in a tweet to Texas Senator Ted Cruz that 60% of illegal firearms recovered in Chicago come from outside Illinois. This tweet was a response to Cruz, who said, “gun control doesn’t work. Look at Chicago. Disarming law-abiding citizens isn’t the answer.”

Amanda Littauer, an associate professor within the Department of History and Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, asked Underwood to address family separation at the border and the conditions migrants at the border are living in.

“What we see happening at the border is completely out of line with our values,” Underwood said.

Underwood said Congress is working on passing bills that impose standards as to how to treat migrants at the border. She said one of the bills she drafted would require a medical screening for migrants within the first 12 hours of detainment so as to prevent active infections from spreading.

Pearson said he hopes the Student Association will hold more events like this in the future, along with inviting legislative members to campus and holding voter registration and information events.

“The Student Association believes very strongly in creating a campus environment that gives students an opportunity to be engaged not only with our community but also on the issues that affect us,” Pearson said.