As staff at Washington’s Navy Yard returned to work for the first time since Monday’s shooting, victims of gun violence and advocates for stricter laws gathered a short distance away, on Capitol Hill, demanding action and courage from their representatives.
The “No More Names” rally began Thursday morning with a moment of silence to honour the 12 people who were killed at the military base earlier in the week by gunman Aaron Alexis. The 34-year-old was shot dead by police at the scene.
“Moments of silence don’t mean anything unless they’re followed by action,” said Stephen Barton, a victim in the Aurora, Colo., movie theatre shooting. He introduced a number of speakers at the event including shooting victims, family members of murder victims, community activists and leaders and he encouraged the crowd to keep fighting for their cause. “It’s truly about life or death, we’re speaking about the lives of our fellow Americans,” he said.
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Monday’s mass shooting has reignited a debate about gun control and advocates are hoping this time members of Congress will be prompted to change gun laws.
Carlee Soto’s sister Vicky was a teacher at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and one of the 26 people who died. The 20-year-old described picking out her sister’s casket and seeing the clothes, with multiple bullet holes, that she was wearing when she was killed.
Calls for more background checks
“I am determined to make sure that no one else feels the pain that I do. Tragic mass shootings like the one we had in Newtown opened our country’s eyes to the fact that we have a serious problems with guns in America,” said Soto. “It is time for our elected representatives in Washington to take meaningful action to stop this bloodshed.”
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, President Barack Obama said he wanted meaningful action to prevent more violence and a series of bipartisan proposals to tighten gun laws went before Congress. They didn’t pass.
“At what point is this enough? How many more mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers have to die before our leaders in Washington take action?” Soto said.
The speakers at the rally were focused on advocating for mandatory, universal background checks for potential gun buyers, a “common sense” measure they said. Requiring background checks won’t solve all gun violence problems, but it will help save lives while also protecting the right to bear arms, said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Retired Col. Bill Badger was shot in the head while trying to take down the gunman who injured Gabrielle Giffords, a Congresswoman from Arizona at the time. He choked up while recounting the nine-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting. Badger, who had a stroke two months after the shooting, is a gun-owning Republican who said he strongly supports background checks.
“This should not be an issue that divides gun owners from the rest of the country,” he said.
Survivor asks for courage from Congress
But the issue has been divisive and while advocates say the public largely supports more background checks according to polls, a majority in Congress has been unwilling to support the idea.
Obama said Tuesday that he’s done what he can to change some laws with executive orders but that Congress needs to act. The leader in the Senate, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, said he’s not inclined to try and revive any of the failed legislation unless he knows he can get enough votes of support.
Congressman Mike Thompson spoke at the rally and asked the crowd to pressure their representatives, and to tell their friends and neighbours to support a background check bill he introduced with Republican Pete King from New York.
“Those who claim it’s a terrible inconvenience, I just want to say, tough. But the reality is, it’s not an inconvenience,” he said. If the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives won’t call his bill for a vote, it should come up with a better idea, he said.
One of the most passionate speakers at the rally was Jennifer Longdon, who was shot and paralyzed nine years ago. She said she became a statistic that night and that background checks are a common sense measure that will help stem the tide of growing gun violence statistics.
Longdon was about to go meet with one of her state senators from Arizona and previewed the message she was going to give him: "I don’t want your sympathy, I don’t want your condolences, I don’t want your hugs and your pats. I want your courage,” she said. “ I want his action and we’re going to keep coming back and coming back until we get it.”