BY AVA BLUM-CARR ’21
With chants of “Books not bullets” and “Enough is enough,” Mount Holyoke students marched from the corner of Morgan and College Street to the Gettell Amphitheater Saturday as part of a nationwide protest to end gun violence.
The demonstration, “March For Our Lives — South Hadley,” was jointly organized by the Mount Holyoke Democrats and the Five College Model United Nations, with logistical assistance from SGA Senate. It was one of many protests that occurred across the nation, the largest being the March For Our Lives in Washington D.C., which was coordinated by survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, as well as the Las Vegas massacre in October and other mass shootings that preceded it, the question of how to prevent future violence is an issue that currently divides the country. Some argue for ramping up the police presence in schools and even arming teachers. Others advocate for the implementation of stricter laws governing the purchase and ownership of firearms.
Luciany Capra ’21, one of the organizers of Saturday’s march and a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, hopes to see “common-sense” gun reforms enacted as soon as possible. “I hope that in these initial stages of protest we achieve a ban on bump stocks, a ban on assault rifles [and] raising the minimum age to purchase a weapon to 21,” said Capra. “Additionally, the waiting period should be much longer and the prerequisites to purchasing a weapon should be more extensive.”
However, many activists have raised questions regarding the enforcement of more stringent gun control laws. According to The Washington Post, increased gun control measures will have the inevitable result of putting more people in prison, which will in turn reflect the prejudices that already exist within law enforcement. Statistics suggest that communities of color already bear the brunt of firearm-related policing.
Data compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for the year 2013 shows that African Americans made up 47 percent of those convicted for federal gun crimes. According to another report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, “possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime” carries with it a mandatory minimum penalty of at least five years imprisonment. This penalty is often even higher, and the Commission concluded that nearly 56 percent of those convicted for gun crimes with mandatory minimum sentences were black.
Capra acknowledged that the disproportionate rates at which people of color are jailed for firearm possession poses a significant issue in the process of introducing stricter gun laws. “What is important for drafting these policies is to include people from these communities in discussions,” said Capra. “A diverse set of experiences must be taken into account for any reform to work.”
“I was at the march, and I’m
appreciative towards the organizers for their efforts to show support for the students who have been spearheading this activist effort nationwide,” said Molly Schiffer ’20. “However, I wish we could extend our anti-gun violence focus on some other pressing issues — the militarization of police, for instance, and their hundreds of extrajudicial killings of people of color, and namely black people in America.”
Schiffer also added that U.S. military warfare in other countries is another aspect of gun violence that “receives far too little attention.”
“Overall though,” she said, “a social movement that addresses gun violence in the U.S. is long overdue, and I admire the courage of survivors who are speaking up about it now.”
The march at Mount Holyoke concluded with a speech by Capra at the amphitheater. “From January 2009 to July 2015, there were at least 133 mass shootings, and there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America since 2013,” she said. “This number is unacceptable, and if politicians won’t change their platforms today, then we’ll vote them out in November.” Students responded with cheers and applause.
“It has been too long since Columbine for no change. It has been too long since Sandy Hook, since Pulse and since Vegas for these politicians not to have any change in their platforms,” Capra continued. “It can’t just be the Democratic party, and it can’t be just a few loose Republicans there. It needs to be all of Congress united for change.”
The audience was then encouraged to take out their phones and start calling U.S. Senators that receive significant funding from the National Rifle Association. As an example, Capra dialed the number for Marco Rubio’s office onstage and left a message providing her name, phone number and a request for common-sense gun reform. “We need to keep calling them, we need to email them, we need to send them letters, and most importantly, we need to vote them out,” Capra said. “We cannot allow them to keep the same agenda moving forward.”
“I realized that unless it’s your high school [or] your community, you forget and can move on,” Capra concluded. “It shouldn’t take a personal tragedy to awaken our consciousness, and our outrage shouldn’t only last a whole news cycle — it must be perpetual and it must bring about change.”