BOONE — The names of the 22 known victims killed in a shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3 and the nine known victims of another shooting in Dayton, Ohio, the following day — with others wounded in both — were read aloud at a candlelight vigil in Boone.
The local Moms Demand Action group organized the Aug. 6 event, where community members gathered outside of the Jones House on King Street to grieve together over the weekend shootings. Moms Demand Action is a national organization that is a grassroots movement of people advocating for public safety measures for protection from gun violence, according to the organization.
According to CNN, 22 people died and more than two dozen wounded when a shooter opened fire in El Paso, Texas. The morning of Aug. 4, another shooter killed nine people and injured 27 others, according to the Dayton Daily News.
Rev. Stephanie Hankins, a leader of the Presbyterian Episcopal Campus Ministry at Appalachian State University, said the local MDA chapter felt moved by the weekend shootings and wanted a place where people could gather so they wouldn’t have to feel alone.
“I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling frustrated, angry, sad and feeling like I’m fighting to bring about change that may possibly never come,” Hankins said. “It’s good to see that other people want to come together and be together.”
The nation is at a point where sharing thoughts and prayers after tragedy is no longer enough, Hankins said. She then quoted a Bible verse from the New Testament that states, “We must not love in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Hankin called the group to action, and said it was time for the public to call those who are in a position to enact change. Kathy Parham, another representative of the local MDA, echoed these sentiments and said people often have a feeling nothing can be done.
“That is a lie. If we let apathy control us, we might as well just roll over,” Parham said.
Parham added that the public needs to make it known that politicians are safe and supported to endorse sensible gun legislation.
N.C. Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) could not be at the vigil, but a statement from him was read aloud. In the statement, Russell was quoted as saying he was grieving for the victims of the weekend shootings.
“I believe that we will rise up as a nation to truly address root causes including anger, racism, disenfranchisement, mental health and others, and we will address contributing causes such as the proliferation of guns in our community,” Russell said in the statement. “Sensible gun laws are supported by a vast majority of people in this state and in this country. While this problem should be addressed by the federal government, states need to do what we can to stand in the gap until Congress does its job.”
Some of the steps toward reducing gun violence that Russell suggested were universal background checks, red flag laws that attempt to keep guns from people who are likely to harm themselves and others, limiting the sales of weapons of war (like semi-automatic assault weapons), limiting the capacity of ammunition clips, mandatory waiting periods after the time of purchase and requiring safe storage of weapons. He said these were are all supported by a vast majority of Americans.
“I’m tired of hearing that these steps would not solve all of the problems,” Russell was quoted as saying. “We know they won’t solve all problems. More importantly, we know what we are doing now, or more correctly what we are not doing, currently is not working.”
The Charlotte Observer quotes Paul Valone, president of North Carolina’s largest gun rights group — Grass Roots North Carolina — as saying that the solution to halting mass shootings isn’t limiting access to firearms. The publication stated that Valone opposes measures proposed in House Bill 86 — which would restrict who can obtain firearms.
HB86 was filed in the N.C. House on Feb. 14 and would require a permit for the purchase ofassault weapons and long guns (like rifles); require a 72-hour waiting period before the buyer could take the gun home; restrict assault-style weapon purchases from those under 21 years of age; require citizens to purchase firearm liability insurance; require a reduction in the recognition of concealed-carry permits issued by other states; and require a ban on trigger cranks and bump stocks, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Rather, Grass Roots North Carolina advocates for loosening up carrying laws to allow guns to be allowed in more areas than are currently permitted, according to the Charlotte Observer. The group thinks this would discourage shooters from targeting unarmed civilians, the publication stated.
Attendees at the Aug. 6 vigil also heard from 17-year-old Galen Miller, a representative of the local Students Demand Action chapter. He said he was in Washington, D.C., during the weekend along with other activists when these two shootings happened. He joined 2,000 other activists — including 250 student leaders from across the country — that weekend. Word quickly spread to the crowd of the first shooting.
“This prompted a level of furious action the likes of which I’ve never seen before,” Miller said.
A protest took place at 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 3, and many were still awake when news broke of the Sunday morning shooting in Dayton. He said that gun-sense activists will not stop advocating for change.
“We are different than the NRA. We are different than the gun manufacturers. We are different than our current lawmakers and administration,” Miller said. “Unlike them, we care.”
Miller told those in attendance to keep going in the search for change, and to take action to the voting polls.
The crowd of 40 or so people gathered on the Jones House lawn, then shared a moment of silence as the names were read, and handheld candles were lit.
For more information on Moms Demand Action, visit momsdemandaction.org.