At mass rallies, the nation cries out: ‘Do something’ about gun violence
At the rally in Raleigh, N.C. | Everytown for Gun Safety via Twitter

CHICAGO –”Do something!” has become the nationwide rallying cry in response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and an eruption of violence that left seven dead in Chicago the same weekend.

Recess Rallies were held during the summer Congressional break August 17-18 in over 100 communities in all 50 states demanding lawmakers pass federal gun restriction legislation to end the carnage.

Those who have lost loved ones and friends to gun violence were joined by those not directly impacted. They included Irma Aragon, who lost her son Israel to gun violence in 2016 near their home in the Albany Park neighborhood.

“Enough is enough. We need reforms now,” said Aragon. “Elected officials who have the power need to take it seriously. The next time it could be their son or daughter. People need to understand this issue affects the entire community.”

The rallies targeted Trump, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and vulnerable GOP candidates running for re-election who have failed to act. They are in the hip pocket of the gun manufacturing industry and its front group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has blocked the passage of any gun restriction laws.

However, each gun death and mass shooting spur a sea change in public opinion. Not long ago, Democratic candidates shied away from the issue, fearful of drawing the wrath of the NRA.

Now, gun control is emerging as a critical election issue, including among GOP and suburban women voters. Earning the scorn of the NRA is worn like a badge. Support for gun control helped Democrats retake the House in 2018 and could lead to the ouster of more Republicans in 2020.

Responding to what they call a “public health emergency,” House Democrats passed a universal background check bill in February and funding for gun violence research in March. But McConnell refuses to take up either measure in the Senate.

The Recess Rallies were organized nationwide by Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, and Everytown for Gun Safety. The rallies demanded passage of universal background checks and so-called “Red Flag” laws, which take guns from owners at risk to commit harm to themselves or others.

A vast majority of Americans support these proposals, along with a ban on sales of military-style assault weapons.

“This is insane,” said Bill Bates, whose son survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “And, it’s nuts that this happened to us well over a year ago and how many other (mass shooting) events have happened since then? It’s just crazy.” Bates was participating in a rally in Fort Lauderdale.

Over 100 people die from gun violence each day. In 2016, the Center for Disease Control said 22,938 people committed suicide using guns, while 14,415 people died in gun homicides.

Over 250 mass shootings have occurred in the past six months. A mass shooting involves multiple people being killed or wounded in an incident. According to one study, 85% of mass shooting deaths have been carried out with assault rifles.

While mass shootings have gotten most of the spotlight, gun-related deaths from daily acts of violence, especially in communities of color, don’t receive the same amount of attention.

Within days of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, organizers with the Black and Brown Gun Violence Prevention Consortium met. The groups participating want to ensure solutions to the daily gun violence in communities of color are a part of any legislation emerging from Congress in response to the mass shootings. In particular, they advocate more funding for community programs that have proven effective in stemming violence.

The struggle by these organizations for recognition in the broader anti-gun violence movement is resulting in growing cooperation with established groups like the Giffords, the Brady Campaign, and Everytown for Gun Safety.

Additionally, students from Parkland Florida built relations with African-American and Latino students across the country following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Together they organized the March for Our Lives Protest in Washington DC.

While Trump and the GOP have stonewalled, Democratic presidential candidates have responded with calls for action. Sixteen candidates participated in a gun control forum organized by Everytown for Gun Safety in Des Moines on August 12. The Black Church PAC hosted a conference centered on gun violence August 17 in Atlanta attended by five candidates.

Most of the presidential candidates support universal background checks, “Red Flag” laws, more research on gun violence, restricting the size of magazine clips, and banning assault weapons.

Sen. Cory Booker introduced a 14-point plan in May. It limits bulk purchases of firearms and prevents domestic abusers from purchasing them. It would establish a federal gun licensing program setting minimum standards for gun ownership. Applying for a gun license would be similar to applying for a passport.

“I am sick and tired of hearing thoughts and prayers for the communities that have been shattered by gun violence,” said Booker.

Former Vice President Joe Biden called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a stronger law than what existed from 1994-2004.

“Assault weapons—military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly—are a threat to our national security, and we should treat them as such,” wrote Biden in a widely publicized New York Times op-ed.

At the rally in Boston, Mass. | Moms Demand Action via Twitter

“It’s unacceptable that children learn to fear mass shooters alongside their ABCs, that people feel unsafe on their weekly grocery run, and that families everywhere experience increasing anxiety that they are simply not safe anywhere in the United States.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren presented a detailed plan to reduce gun deaths by 80%. It includes many ideas advocated by gun restriction activists, like the federal gun licensing program, extending waiting periods, capping gun purchases, banning those convicted of hate crimes from owning guns, holding gun manufacturers liable for the deaths, and funding gun violence research.

Speaking at a Moms Demand Action rally in Little Rock, Ark., former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called for universal background checks, banning assault rifles, and beginning a gun buyback program.

All the Democratic candidates have connected the need for gun restrictions with a rejection of the anti-immigrant, white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist hate promoted by Trump that has fueled many of the mass shootings.

“It’s good to see so many people stepping up,” said Dalia Aragon, Israel’s sister. “It’s a good mix of families of survivors, those not directly impacted, and different Chicago neighborhoods that don’t always interact. We all have a common goal of creating a great city that is safe with equal resources for all.”


CONTRIBUTOR

John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People's World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

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