Students, Community, Politicians Gather to Rally for Gun Control

By Anne Rittman Hoya Staff Writer

Speaking over the chirping of birds as the last rays of sunlight hit White Gravenor, students, legislators and others fighting to control firearms addressed a crowd of about 200 people on Wednesday. The group gathered in response to National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston’s visit to Georgetown, as well as to advocate gun control in a rally sponsored by the Campus Alliance to End Gun Violence.

The rally called for “gun control solutions that address the public health impact of gun violence and [to] treat gun violence as a public health issue,” according to a press release. Other issues of concern included the establishment and maintenance of consumer safety and product liability standards for all guns sold in the U.S., as well as improved laws regarding the ability of consumers to buy, sell and own guns.

“Our goal was to provide a forum for both sides of the [gun control] issue at the same place and the same time,” said Jason cGrath (SFS ’02), the event coordinator and founder of the Georgetown chapter of Campus Alliance. “Usually, you have a forum for Charlton Heston, or a protest. This is pretty slanted. By [having a rally], students take all in at once and can decide who to support.”

The Million Mom March Organization showed a strong presence at the rally, bringing both a speaker and several mothers. Jill Ater, a member of the Community/Youth Outreach Committee, said, “We have had enough of gun violence. Having a gun is a right, but it is also a responsibility. Twelve children die a day due to gun violence. Children should not be afraid to go to school. They should be afraid of exams [at school], not guns.”

The MMM said it is not anti-gun, but rather favors restrictions and limitations placed on guns and gun purchases. “My husband is in law enforcement, and we own guns in our house. However, they are locked up and my son doesn’t know they exist,” Ater said. “This group is non-partisan. We have people of all faiths. We have NRA members. What we have in common is that we care about kids.”

An MMM volunteer working with urban D.C. youths, Wayne Pernell attended the Georgetown rally to remind attendees that “these murders often have a deeper scope . people always hear about another murder but don’t realize that these are often uninsured victims. [Their deaths] can result in the loss of a wage earner. There are numerous unsolved homicides. A lot of people don’t realize there is another side to picking up a newspaper.”

Like Pernell, the speakers focused on spurring college students to act. “Eighty-nine people die of gun violence every day,” said Kim Wade, campaign manager for the Alliance for Justice. “A movement is beginning with students and sweeping across campuses and the country. With students uniting, we are ending gun violence.”

“Students are influential in forming politics,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). “They influence action in a positive way to make a difference for the country. The best way for students to get involved is to get involved with First Monday, with MMM . sign the petition on my Web site, visit your representative, senator . don’t forget [about the issue] over the summer. Listen. We’re going to do something.”

Reed, a senator known for pushing the issue of gun control, introduced the Handgun Safety and Regulation Act this year. The act calls for the registration of all handguns and “is meant to reduce illegal gun trafficking by providing for more efficient tracing of handguns used in crimes and tougher penalties for those selling guns to illegal purchasers,” according to a press release.

Erik Christian, deputy-mayor for public safety and justice, said, “Seventy children have died [from gun violence] since January. “The best and the brightest are being snuffed out by guns. [We will] pay for our past negligence.”

Reed called for students to send messages to their representatives in Congress to end the stagnancy of gun control legislation. “Strength and glory is standing up . standing up to stop the epidemic of gun violence. We are here today to send a message . to Capitol Hill.”

Reed noted the backlash from the Columbine, Colo., shooting tragedy on April 20, 1999. “Now, at the dawn of a new spring, there is nothing. Republican leadership stands idly by, ignoring young voices. They listen to the gun lobby.”

He further emphasized the need to protect children from gun violence, saying, “In some parts, it’s easier [for a child] to get a gun than a library book.”

Fighting back tears behind the podium, Tina Jackson, the coordinator of the Million Mom March in D.C., told her story of involvement with the March, which resulted from the 1998 murder of her only son, Tyrone, whose killer is still at large. She also stressed the importance of communication with Congress in the gun legislation battle, saying, “[Senators,] if you don’t want sensible gun laws, get to stepping, because we won’t have it. We are tired of hurting . We don’t want to get rid of guns, but we are tired of children getting shot down.”

Although, according to McGrath, the rally’s purpose was not to protest Heston’s presence on campus, a few found it hard to refrain from noting the former actor’s speech. Signs made reference to Heston’s role in The Ten Commandments as Moses, carrying signs saying, “Thou shalt not kill, remember, Moses?” Jackson concluded her speech saying, “I’d like to say to the Moses perpetrator: Get to stepping.”

The rally, according to McGrath, is only one event planned by Campus Alliance. “We will be sponsoring involvement with the MMM [on May 14]. It’s during finals, but students will still be here.” Campus Alliance also hopes to sponsor more speakers this semester, according to McGrath. “[Campus Alliance] is looking to branch out,” he said. “We’re not just a Georgetown group.”

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