Protesters disrupt a Commonwealth North meeting in Anchorage on Monday, criticizing Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young over campaign money they've accepted from the National Rifle Association. (Alex DeMarban / Anchorage Daily News)
An event celebrating the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling was interrupted Monday night by protesters who criticized Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young over the Florida school shooting and money they've accepted from the National Rifle Association.
"Stop killing our children with guns!" Anchorage resident Dana Dardis shouted at the lawmakers as event attendees walked her and others out of the Petroleum Club in Midtown Anchorage. "You've got blood on your hands!"
"No more NRA money for politicians!" another shouted as she left the room.
About half a dozen protesters had briefly entered the Commonwealth North dinner and annual meeting, holding signs including one that referenced the donations both lawmakers have accepted from the NRA.
Since 1998, Young has received $62,600 from the NRA, according to The Washington Post. Murkowski has received $18,900, the Post reported.
Some of the protesters said they were with the Alaska Grassroots Alliance. Others said they were on their own.
After officials threatened to call police to remove the protesters from what they said was a private meeting, Dardis sat on the floor outside the glass doors in a hallway. Officers had to escort her away.
On Valentine's Day in Parkland, Florida, Nikolas Cruz, 19, used a semiautomatic weapon to kill 17 people at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, officials say. The shooting has revived a long-running debate over gun control and how to stop mass shootings.
"Here's our representatives — they come into town and they don't even hold a town meeting for the constituents," said Dardis. "Shame on them."
Inside, Young and Murkowski stuck to the script before dozens of diners, discussing how they turned Murkowski's ANWR-opening measure into law after 40 years of failed attempts by Republicans to allow drilling in the refuge's coastal plain.
Teamwork on the Alaska congressional delegation was critical, as was getting the measure onto the tax bill in a budget reconciliation process, requiring a simple majority to pass, they said.
With the protesters' singing and shouting audible from outside, Young suggested they were full of "hot air" and responsible for climate change, generating applause from some audience members.
At the meeting's end, former lieutenant governor and event moderator Mead Treadwell began to raise the subject of mass shootings and the gun control debate when Young cut him off.
Decades ago, Treadwell attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six teachers were killed in a 2012 mass shooting,
"You just be careful what you ask for," said Young, a board member of the National Rifle Association. "You want to screw something up, let Congress get involved in it. Let the state handle these things. They'll figure it out one way or another."
"I can remember in my time everyone carried guns in school and no one was shooting one another," said Young, 84 and a former schoolteacher in Fort Yukon.
"The solution is saying, 'What has happened to our families? Where is the breakdown in our society and why are we allowing the god-awful worst-looking things I've ever seen on these video games?'" he said, adding that he doesn't blame violent video games for shootings.
"We've got to solve the causes, not say, 'Oh, it's a simple weapon.' It could be a five-gallon can of gas next time.'"
Murkowski, speaking to reporters, said she's torn as a mother, lawmaker and gun rights advocate.
She said she'll support legislation expected in the coming days from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Called the Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act, it would provide grants to support training to help teachers, students and others in schools identify and report violent threats before violence occurs.
It might also include an anonymous reporting system using an app that allows officials to compile tips, Murkowski said.
She did not call for restrictions on gun use.
"But I recognize this shooter was able to take the lives of so many beautiful young people and staff at the school because he had a weapon that allowed him to facilitate a mass murder — we need to have a bigger discussion," she said.
"And I hate to say we have to have a conversation. We have been having conversations for years, and what is happening, the trend is going up and more innocent people are being slaughtered in schools. Something is wrong here, America."