Students demand gun violence reform

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Students demand gun violence reform

3:43 p.m. PDT October 27, 2015

When students at Willamette University heard about the Umpqua Community College shooting, something inside them boiled over.

“I think… there was a moment when it hit too close to home,” said senior Madison Hall. “Roseburg was a realization that these shootings are relevant to every person every day.”

The Oct. 1 shooting in Roseburg was the 45th school shooting in 2015 and the 142nd school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, according to Washington Times and Newsweek reports.

Several Willamette students have decided to take action by demonstrating at the Capitol twice a week from 8 to 10 a.m. to reach Capitol workers and morning commuters until there is gun violence reform.

The students stood on the Capitol steps Tuesday morning, bundled in the 45-degree weather, holding their signs and accepting both the positive and negative responses they received. Whether it was a passerby nodding in support, or a driver flipping them off, the students took it all and continued to stand together, side by side.

“We’ve become cold to (the shootings) because (they) happen so frequently,” said student and demonstrator Jason Pegis. “We’re tired of just mourning; we want to see a change.”

The demonstrators’ signs say things such as, “End Gun Violence,” “This Should Not Be Routine,” and “Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Good Enough.”

“We are tired of shooting after shooting,” Pegis said. “‘Thoughts and prayers’ are a nice sentiment, but they aren’t doing anything.”

One sign, held by Eric Samelson Tuesday morning, listed the dozens of school shootings that have occurred in recent history.

“Statistically, things aren’t getting better,” Pegis said.

Bloomberg compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which projected 2015 will be the first year in history that more people are killed by firearms than motor vehicles.

CDC projects there will be 32,929 people killed by firearms and 32,036 in traffic fatalities in 2015.

Additionally, the Stanford Geospatial Center reports more than 80 victim fatalities as of June 2015, up from nearly 40 victim fatalities in 2014.

“Mass shootings have become a symbol of American culture” Pegis said. “We want to change that via political action.”

The unofficial group formed from a Facebook community page called “Demonstrators for Gun Violence Reform” that has more than 60 active participants fighting for gun violence reform. The group does not take an official stance on any particular policy or reform. Instead, it seeks to compromise and work for almost any kind of change in gun violence policy.

Each student, however, is passionate in their own ideas.

Hall, speaking for herself, said she wants to push for expansion of background checks and mental health resources, saying these things are not specific only to the shootings, but are greater cultural issues that can play a role in gun violence.

She also wants there to be a renewal period where those who are permitted to carry a weapon have to be re-reviewed when they renew their driver’s license.

Pegis is advocating for a ban on assault weapons.

“I hate that we even have to come out here,” Hall said.

The idea to rally at the Capitol was originally going to be one large demonstration. But the students decided to do two demonstrations a week instead.

“We want to make a consistent impact,” said Hall, one of the main organizers of the group. “(Coming multiple times) shows we haven’t forgotten.”

Hall said the group hasn’t been met with much opposition, but she has made a point not to argue about the topic over social media. Hall encourages people to have those conversations in person at the demonstrations.

The majority of Americans, gun owners included, are in support of stronger gun safety policies, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

In fact, 73 percent of gun owners surveyed support prohibiting a person convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile from having a gun for 10 years, 75 percent supported prohibiting people who have been convicted of public display of gun in a threatening manner excluding self-defense from having a gun for 10 years, and 76 percent prohibited people convicted of domestic violence from having a gun for 10 years.

Similarly, 67 percent of gun owners surveyed also supported allowing cities to sue licensed gun dealers when the gun dealer’s sales practices allow criminals to obtain guns, and 71 percent supported requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for a person convicted of knowingly selling a gun to someone who cannot legally have one. The survey included 1,326 respondents.

The group plans to demonstrate as long as they can until some kind of change happens.

“We have come to a point in our nation where inaction is no longer a valid course of action,” Hall said. “We watch this happen time and time again in universities, high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools, and we do nothing.

“We post Facebook statuses about how sad we are that another shooting occurred, and we point fingers from across a polarized line, but rarely do we do anything. The point of this group it to at least try to make change in a tangible way.”

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate 

Want to get involved?

People interested in getting involved with the demonstrations can visit www.facebook.com/EndGunViolenceSalem. 

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