200 people attend Little Rock march for gun control laws following recent shootings

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Dalton Thompson feared for his life in first grade when his school was closed because of an unauthorized person on the premises with a gun, he told about 200 people on the steps of the Capitol on Saturday. ‘Arkansas.

He experienced at least two lockdowns a year throughout high school, he said.

“How many days have we wasted cowering in fear in a dark classroom, just in the corner, wondering ‘Are we about to die? Are we about to be shot down? Are we about to have our names on signs? said Thompson, a University of Central Arkansas graduate, freshman law student and national representative from Arkansas for the Young Democrats of America.

The rally was one of many nationwide on Saturday, part of a new upsurge in gun control activism in light of a string of deadly mass shootings over the month. latest, the deadliest being at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed.

Dee Sanders, one of the rally organizers, read aloud the names of Uvalde’s 21 victims for onlookers to repeat. Sanders was a Moms Demand Action Arkansas chapter leader until she stepped down to run for the state House of Representatives this year as a Democrat in Conway.

The number of people in attendance on Saturday was encouraging, she said.

“I’m thrilled with the response because it was organized pretty quickly for a march,” Sanders told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Protesters marched toward the Capitol building from the intersection of Capitol Avenue and South Izard Street, carrying signs in support of gun control policies and chanting slogans such as ‘Children, not guns and “No More Silence, End Gun Violence”.

Messages on protesters’ placards included “Enough is enough”,https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jun/12/200-people-attend-little-rock-march-for-gun/”Legislation, not thoughts and prayers” and “Arm teachers with pencils, not guns.”

A set of policies including several gun regulations was passed by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday. The package includes raising the legal age to purchase certain firearms from 18 to 21 and creating new federal offenses for trafficking firearms and selling large capacity magazines.

The four elected members of the Arkansas House – Republican Representatives Rick Crawford, French Hill, Steve Womack and Bruce Westerman – all voted against the legislation, which is not expected to pass the US Senate.

Kate Fletcher, a Little Rock resident and state spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action, denounced the decisions of members of Congress and said they should be removed from office.

“After this week, after these votes from these so-called Christians, I can no longer tell my [6-year-old] daughter that monsters don’t exist, because they do,” Fletcher said.

Several elected Democrats attended the rally, including State Senator Clarke Tucker and State Representatives Fred Love and Andrew Collins, all of Little Rock; State Senator David Barber of Conway; gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones; and gubernatorial candidate Kelly Krout.

The United States has seen more than 250 mass shootings so far in 2022, and one American has died from gun violence every 12 minutes in 2020. Tucker noted that this would mean three people would have died between the start of the march and his 10-minute speech, which he began with 21 seconds of silence in memory of those killed in Uvalde.

He said making schools safer has been the top talking point among Republicans in the Legislature in light of the Uvalde killings.

“I’m all for that, I want schools to be safe, but what about grocery stores like in Buffalo, [ N.Y.]what about hospitals like in Oklahoma, what about funerals like in Iowa [and] what about where we are here, right now? Tucker said, citing other recent mass shootings. “Are we going to turn every public space in America into a prison or a war zone?

In addition to gun control measures passed by the U.S. House, Saturday’s rally participants expressed support for universal background checks, a mandatory waiting period before buying a firearm fire and red flag laws that would prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who might pose a danger to themselves or others.

Tucker said another measure he supports is a “safe storage law,” which would keep firearms out of reach of children or anyone trying to steal a gun from a family member.

He said the fact that all of these measures are not yet federal laws is “an indictment of the political system.”

“In the wake of Uvalde, if you don’t act now, at least be frank with me,” Tucker said. “Just tell me that these slaughtered children are the cost of your definition of a free society. Be frank, but here is my question for you: when is this cost too high? If we do not act and the next school shooting is in Arkansas, is the cost too high at this point?”

Thompson expressed similar frustration with elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, and he urged protesters to work tirelessly to elect candidates who support gun reform.

“We have to get people to vote because that’s how we break up this gun-hungry supermajority, that’s how we elect Democrats, that’s how we change the system — and then, a time we do, we hold Democrats accountable,” Thompson said. .

Jessica Taverna, an art teacher at Little Rock Central High School, read a quote from feminist writer Bell Hooks: “There can be, and usually is, a degree of pain in letting go of old ways of think, know and learn new approaches. I respect that pain.”

Taverna said being both a teacher and a parent makes school closures twice as stressful and painful, and she described American school workers as “sitting targets with less and less hope.”

Zulkifl Qazi, a junior rising at Central High and a member of its Students Demand Action chapter, recalled an incident in October 2021 after shots were fired in the surrounding neighborhood and bullets shattered two classroom windows. The resulting lockdown ended with the early dismissal of students from school.

“I was on the third floor, and just below the window, all the parents were piling up [up]wanting to open the doors and see their children,” Qazi said.

Rose Wise, a mother and grandmother who lives in Hot Springs Village, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she was grateful to not have children in school at this time in history. She said elected officials “have blood on their hands” for failing to pass gun regulations in light of so many shootings.

“Thoughts and prayers won’t help anyone,” Wise said. “They must be backed up by action. In fact, thought and prayer without action is hypocritical.”

Protesters attending the March For Our Lives rally Saturday on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol observe a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in Uvalde, Texas. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)
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