Chanting “Not one more!,” community activists, representatives and students marched together through the main dirt thoroughfare of Colonial Williamsburg Saturday, March 23 to express their outrage at gun violence in the United States and abroad. Holding up signs featuring slogans such as “Protest Kids, Not Guns,” “One Tribe, One Family” and “How Many More,” activists demanded gun safety legislation at Williamsburg’s March to End Gun Violence.
The March started from the Capitol building of Colonial Williamsburg as marchers walked over half a mile down Duke of Gloucester Street to Merchants Square.
The costs of gun violence were fresh on many marchers’ minds after the March 22 fatal shooting of the College of William and Mary student Nathan Evans ’21 in Norfolk, as well as the recent Christchurch mosque shootings.
Rep. Elaine Luria, who represents Virginia’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke at the march to convey her dedication to passing gun safety legislation during her time in Congress.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that Nathan lost his life at gunpoint,” Luria said. “We continue to have guns proliferating in the community and people who have a propensity to harm themselves or harm others. It’s really important for me that we move forward with legislation on gun safety.”
The protest focused on highlighting gun violence’s human costs and encouraging the passage of gun safety legislation to prevent future violence. Numerous speakers from student groups and community organizations gathered to talk about the toll of gun violence on communities and entire generations.
“I am 18, and I belong to the massacre generation,” Students Demand Action member Julia Gibson ’22 said. “It was last Saturday when it hit me that my entire life has been framed by violence … I remembered all the violence looming around me and my friends and my entire generation. I remember that for anyone born around the year 2000, this is all we’ve ever known.”
“I am 18, and I belong to the massacre generation,” Students Demand Action member Julia Gibson ’22 said.
Religious Chair for the College’s Muslim Student Organization Mariam Khan ’22 warned students against becoming complacent in the face of Islamophobic hatred and senseless killing.
“How many more deaths must we endure, must we be desensitized to, must we forget before change begins to happen?” Khan said.
Board member of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy Reverend Anthony Fludd spoke out against the omnipresence of gun violence, and condemned gun violence as an avoidable form of devastation.
“It amazes me that with all of the mass shootings, violence in our nation, even in our community, churches, and homes that we think innocent people aren’t going to get caught in a crossfire…” Fludd said. “War, violence, oppression and countless other forms of human cruelty are evident in the time we live and on this planet we got to do something.”
Several U.S., state and city representatives were present at the march to show their support for ending gun violence. Luria, an advocate for anti-gun violence legislation in Congress, was invited to speak at the pre-march rally.
Luria is a co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which despite passing the House is currently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Other proposed gun control bills, including the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 — commonly referred to as the Charleston Loophole bill — have also succeeded in the House with bipartisan support. The Charleston Loophole bill closes the background check loophole that allowed Dylann Roof, the Mother Emmanuel Church shooter, to purchase a firearm after his background check wasn’t conducted within three days.
Virginia Sen. Monty Mason spoke about his frustration with the inability to push gun safety legislation through Virginia’s Republican–controlled state legislature. All gun violence prevention matters brought towards the current assembly have been killed in committee.
“There are a lot of thing we do in Richmond that are very bipartisan,” Mason said. “We work together on a lot of matters. This issue is not one of them.”
Mason spoke further about the importance of immediate action and the ties of solidarity in the fight against gun violence.
“A lot of people care, and I can assure you I have never seen two William and Mary football coaches appear at a rally,” Mason said. “They’re not generally the politically oriented folks, right. But, it’s not about politics ladies and gentlemen. It’s about people. It’s about people’s lives. It’s about people you know, people you care about and people you don’t know.”
“But, it’s not about politics ladies and gentlemen. It’s about people. It’s about people’s lives. It’s about people you know, people you care about and people you don’t know.” Mason said.
With upcoming state legislative elections in November and a Democratic primary in June for the Virginia Assembly, a number of Democratic candidates for Virginia’s 96th House of Delegates district participated in the March to End Gun Violence. Candidates Rebecca Leser and Chris Mayfield both spoke at the march, and Dr. David Jaffee spoke on behalf of candidate Mark Downey.
Leser, one of the candidates for the 96th district’s Democratic nomination, attended the march to support the community’s efforts to stop gun violence.
“I came both as a local party chair and a candidate for office because I do support common sense legislation,” Leser said, “I wanted be there to support the William and Mary students who were marching for it, just to speak out that we need to address these problems in the legislature.”
The March to End Gun Violence was organized by the College’s local SDA chapter and a number of other partner organizations such as the Peninsula Progressive Network, Williamsburg Indivisible Group and Moms Demand Action. The Williamsburg–James City County Democrats and other groups helped to fund the event.
SDA is part of the larger gun violence national advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety. The group calls for common sense bipartisan gun measures such as bans on bump stocks, universal background checks and assault weapons bans. The College’s local chapter is one of the few college chapters of SDA, as most chapters are organized at the high school level.
SDA and the Peninsula Progressive Network began work on the march after SDA’s Feb. 14 vigil for the victims of the Parkland mass shooting. Aiming to match the energy of last year’s March for Our Lives protests, SDA and the Peninsula Progressive Network worked together to highlight the issue of gun violence in the community.
“Students Demand Action really wanted to maintain the focus on gun violence prevention, and we in the community have a good relation with Students Demand Action,” Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action member Christine Payne said. “So, we decided we would be really happy to help them with their efforts to get the word out.”
SDA also held a week’s worth of college and community engagement events before the march. These included events ranged from letter writing campaigns in the Sadler Center to a panel discussion featuring speakers such as Chief of William and Mary Police Deborah Cheesebro.
“We served in a supportive role for Students Demand Action,” Payne said. “They really did take the lead this year, and we were happy to help line up speakers and get the nuts and bolts of the march done such as secure our permit and interface with the law enforcement in town … We did the bricks and mortars part of it, but it really was the actions of Students Demand Action that drove us this year.”
Luria praised SDA for its local advocacy and the strength of its advocacy on campus for the past year and a half.
“The fact that Students Demand Action has started as a grassroots group and grown so astronomically over the last year and half is really a testament to the fact that young people are engaged in the political process,” Luria said. “I want to continue to see more of that on this issue and other things that are important to younger people.”
Leser claimed SDA was a great example of the power of youth activism.
“I am so excited to see other young people that are stepping up and saying enough is enough,” Leser said. “I think the students that did come out to the march yesterday are going to be tomorrow’s leaders. It’s nice that everyone is getting politically engaged and caring about this legislation because the older people that have been in office for decades don’t think this is a public health crisis.”
“I think the students that did come out to the march yesterday are going to be tomorrow’s leaders.” Leser said.
Going forward, SDA plans to continue its advocacy against gun violence, in addition to also being a resource for those affected by gun violence on campus.
“Because tragedy struck our campus, we want to be available to students,” Chapter Lead of SDA Samyuktha Mahadevan ’19 said. “I think the first step is going to vigil and working with the football team and our administration to let them know that we as people are available.”
Other items on SDA’s agenda include working on campus safety drills, gun safety education and participating in Gun Violence Awareness Month in June. There are also plans for a Stand Up Rally in April.