Mothers Demand Commonsense Gun Laws In 200 Rallies In 47 States
Above Photo: From socialearth.org
Orange is the color that hunters wear in the woods to avoid being shot by accident. Orange was the color worn by the mourning friends of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Chicago student who was shot and killed only one week after performing with her high school band at President Obama’s second inaugural parade. Orange has become the color of a movement to end gun violence in America. It is the color that marched across our country on National Gun Violence Awareness day, on June 2, to stop more children from being shot.
Last week thousands of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters (some accompanied by fathers and brothers) marched in orange attire in 200 rallies and 47 states across the country protesting our nation’s lack of common sense gun laws. In San Francisco approximately 200 marched across the Golden Gate Bridge. The marchers were white, African-American, Latino, young, and old, rich and poor, all of them brought by a common desire to end the violence. “I just feel so helpless,” said one mother, “I thought I can do this.”
Their demands for “common sense” gun laws include: ending open carry laws (especially in places like grocery stores and college campuses), promoting responsible gun ownership (smartguns, gun safes, and safety catches), banning sales of semi-automatic weapons, expanding universal background checks, taxing bullet sales, and increasing gun safety education.
Although even Newtown’s elementary school massacre could not prompt Congress to stand up to the NRA for tougher gun laws, the Brady Campaign, Everytown, and Moms Demand Action continue to push for state and federal laws that will make it harder for guns to reach the hands of people with mental illnesses, violent histories, or children.
Tragically, the day before these protests, there was yet another college shooting, this time at UCLA; this has become our nation’s new normal. Everytown has been compiling statistics on a map of the US, flooded with red dots, to signify all the schools (from elementary schools through colleges) where blood has been shed, including names of all the victims. Since 2013 there have been 186 school shootings; that’s an average of one a week. Every day in the US, an average of 33 people are murdered with guns, while another 53 die from gun accidents or suicide.
Clare Senchyna marched for her son Camilo-Senchyna-Beltran, 26, an EMT who was shot when he stepped in between a friend and a stranger, on Mission Street, in San Francisco, trying to break up a fight. According to Ms. Senchyna, who worked for 30 years as a health worker, most recently at SF General Hospital, “Camilo was out celebrating having finished paramedics school on December 7 2014, and he was shot by a stranger, a 21-year-old with a gun. I was trying to figure out why this had happened and the only thing I could think of was the accessibility of guns.” For her the solution is, “We are going to change the laws, starting with closing all the background check loopholes.”
Elizabeth Proctor marched for the students who were shot at UC Santa Barbara where six people were killed and seven severely injured in a shooting rampage in 2014. Proctor marched in gratitude, one of the few mothers not in mourning, because her daughter had narrowly evaded harm that day; but she also carried the weight of knowledge that other mothers had not been so lucky. She wore a flouncy orange skirt and carried an orange parasol in solidarity with them. “My daughter, although she was not harmed, she was very close to where several people were shot and killed in Santa Barbara,” said Proctor. “She was directly going to be taking the path where he (the shooter) shot in three different rounds, and the only reason why she wasn’t there was because she went back in for tea and toast.”
Jane Holt “marched” in her wheelchair for the youths she has seen injured by gun violence at San Francisco General Hospital, where she worked for years as a nurse practitioner. From her wheelchair, Holt marched her legs along the ground for the full two-mile bridge span (back and forth) to keep pace with the other protesters. “There’s been a lot gun violence where I worked. I think we need better laws. We need better regulation. And we need people to realize that we don’t need semi-automatic weapons for anything, not even hunting.”
Paulette Brown marched for her sixteen-year-old son, Aubrey Abraska, a student at Gateway High and a basketball player, who was shot 30 times with a semi-automatic gun. His mother continues to hope for a change in our nation’s gun laws. Brown handed out fliers in hopes that the killers will be caught and brought to justice. “I have three girls, he was my only son. I had to walk across the stage and receive his diploma in death. He was a good boy.”
Abraska was on his way to work when he saw men with guns moving toward another group of youths. Brown told SocialEarth, “He saved people’s life that day. He did what his mother told him to do. He said, ‘Run!’ and everybody ran. Who was left? My sixteen-year-old boy. They shot him 30 times with a semi-automatic gun.”
Nicole Gardner marched for her daughter Ronique Gardner-Williams who was shot in a drive-by shooting in Richmond, CA. Ronique, a second year college student studying Veterinary medicine, was in a car with friends driving in the Richmond district; she was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Ms. Gardner wiped tears from her cheeks, saying, “It’s so hard to talk about, it’s only been six months. It traumatized me. It’s so hard.”
A woman, bearing the signature orange t-shirt, wrapped her arm around Ms. Gardner. “You don’t have to talk,” she said. “Just hand out your fliers.” Gardner’s fliers included a photo of her slain daughter along with a plea to witnesses to come forth. Another mother in mourning came over; the two survivors whispered to one another. Then they lifted their heads to face the cameras.
A young woman pushed a stroller, bearing Nicole’s remaining child, a little girl, too young to understand the magnitude of the day’s events, but one who would, in years to come, feel the weight of her mother’s grief and her big sister’s absence.
Mattie Scott marched (on right in photo, with friend), as she’s been marching for the last twenty years, for her youngest son George C. Scott, shot the day before his son’s sixth birthday. George was an activist trying to better the lives of young males of color. Scott marched for her nephew, Timothy Scott, also shot and killed, at the age of 24. Scott marched for her niece, who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I’ve lost three people to violence so I take it personal,” she told me. “My son was 24 years old, father of two. His son was a year and a half, and Gabriel was 5…the very next day was his son’s sixth birthday, so that was his birthday present. ”
Scott has channeled her outrage into action, working tirelessly to combat violence in the African-American community and San Francisco’s minority communities. She is the founder of Healing 4 Our Families & Our Nation, President of the SF Brady Campaign, and Chapter Leader of Mother’s in Charge. She has spent the last twenty years advocating for stronger gun-control laws as well as organizing to heal the trauma faced by families impacted by gun violence.
“We have to stop the killing and start the healing,” she told SocialEarth. We need ‘jobs, opportunities, mental health services, less capitalism and more humanism.’”
Daniel Posey marched for his friends who have been shot. He marches for the bullet wounds that he carries. He marches for the kids that he’s trying to save from the same fate that nearly befell him. Posey is the lead case manager for United Players, a youth leadership and violence prevention organization dedicated to helping end violence in the streets of San Francisco. “I been shot five times. I got over a hundred friends that been killed by gun violence, thousands that have been shot. It’s got to cease. I’m tired of seeing little kids get killed for no reason. We can do it. We can work together.” Although he says, that he used to have a different view on guns as a young man, that changed after he was incarcerated for ten years for possession of a gun. “I was blessed with enlightenment while I was in prison. I did a lot of educating myself. And just realizing that I don’t need to have a gun to have some power.”
My own sons marched in front of me, twin nine-year-old boys who were healthy, safe, and as of yet, lucky enough to be untouched by such violence. All around us marched women and men who had not been so lucky. I was reminded of how much work a parent puts in to teach their children right from wrong—and how fast a bullet can silence everything.
One thing has become imminently clear in the last ten years—none of us are truly immune to gun violence any more. While it remains more common in inner-city neighborhoods, gun violence has recently reached its ugly arms outside of any particular neighborhood, and into the kinds of spaces we used to deem safe: elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges, churches, movie theaters, and grocery stores.
At the end of the two-hour march from San Francisco to Marin and back again, the marchers gathered around the flag pole, and beneath the flapping red, white, and blue stars and stripes, there stood an orange halo.