NJ student refused to leave die-in at a congressman’s office. So, police arrested him
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A high school student was arrested when he refused to leave Rep. Leonard Lance’s district office in Westfield after participating in an anti-gun “die-in” protest there this week.
Ben Schachter, a 17-year-old Summit High School senior, refused to leave “in order to raise publicity” for legislative efforts to promote gun safety, he said Thursday, two days after his arrest.
The protest on Tuesday coincided with a nationwide one held on the second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.
“I made up my mind that I was willing to be arrested in order to raise publicity for the issue,” Schacter said.
At least four students were allowed to enter the office between 4:30 and 5 p.m., and lieor sit on the floor in protest.
The national protest was initiated by David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, Schachter said. The idea, he added, was “to have a national die-in, where students would go to their representative’s offices and simulate dying there as if they were victims of gun violence, to indicate the need for greater gun control measures. That’s what I was doing.”
Members of Lance’s staff told the protesters that if they did not leave by 6 p.m., the Republican congressman’s office would be locked for the night with a motion alarm activated.
The other students left the building, but Schachter remained on the floor, “partly to signal that I wasn’t going to be intimidated,” he said.
Office staffers allowed his mother, Pam Schachter, who accompanied her son to the protest, to enter the building and try to coax him out.
“I told him he had made his point and if he didn’t come out, he was going to suffer the consequences of being arrested,” she said. “He told me he understood that, and he was prepared to suffer those consequences in order to further the cause of gun safety, and make sure Congressman Lance understands how his constituents feel about keeping our children and our country safe from gun violence.”
The staffers at that point shut the office door.
Todd Mitchell, Lance’s chief of staff, said the door was shut, but the teen could have left at any time simply by turning the deadbolt on the door.
Ben Schachter said he was unaware that was the case.
After his mother failed to coax him out, Westfield police officers entered the office and warned him that an arrest record could affect his future employment and college plans.
“I did indicate to them that I was not going to be leaving unless they arrested me,” he said. “Once they said I was under arrest, I did not resist.”
“The police treated both Ben and I with respect,” Pam Schachter said.
Pam Schachter had harsher words for Lance’s staff.
“Locking a 17-year-old in the congressman’s office seemed like an inappropriate response to me,” she said. “They could recognize this act of civil disobedience without signing a complaint against him.”
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Schachter said he specifically wanted Lance to back passage of H.R. 4240, known as the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2017, which would “provide a responsible and consistent background check process.”
He also wants Lance to oppose the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow a qualified individual to carry a concealed or possess a concealed handgun in another state that allows concealed-carry firearms.
“And in general, he needs to be more attentive to his constituents desires regarding gun issues,” he said.
Mitchell, Lance’s chief of staff, defended the congressman’s stance on gun issues.
“Tuesday’s incident cannot change the fact that Congressman Leonard Lance has championed legislation to require background checks for all gun purchases, to strengthen school security, to ban dangerous bump stocks and to prevent violent and dangerous individuals from purchasing weapons,” Mitchell said.
Lance, a Republican, also has an office in Clinton. His district includes portions of Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, Union and Essex counties.
About 25 to 30 people, including adults, joined in the protest, most remaining outside and lying on the sidewalk in solidarity with the students who were participating nationwide.
Two adults were allowed to enter the office with the students, one of whom was lateridentified as Diane Moxley, the Green Party candidate running against Lance in the 2018 midterm election.
Moxley, according to Mitchell and others on the scene, was asked to leave the office for posing as a journalist and having fake press credentials.
Moxley said she had been asked by some protest participants to stream video of the event on social media.
Staff Writer William Westhoven: 973-917-9242; wwesthoven@Dailyrecord.com.
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