In the front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg Church were 100 pinwheels that represented the lives lost every day to gun violence.
The pinwheels were part of Moms Demand Action’s second annual Wear Orange event Saturday evening in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
“It does not have to be this way,” said Samantha Borzi–Hedges, head of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group formed to push for changes to reduce gun violence. “We are not the only country that has video games. We’re not the only country that has mental health issues.
“We’re not the only country that faces these issues, but we are the only country where this is the reality.”
The gathering came only eight days after a shooting in the Virginia Beach municipal building that killed 12 people.
“We wanted to make sure we acknowledged what happened. … We wanted to make sure we adjusted the tone to ensure that we were being conscious of the fact that people are scared and people are grieving,” said Borzi–Hedges.
Still, group members wanted to make sure they didn’t lose sight of the other 100 people who die from gun violence every day, said Borzi–Hedges.
Sue Walum, who coordinates MDA events, was there to share her personal story, as well. Her younger brother, who joined the Army shortly after graduating high school and deployed in Operation Desert Shield in 1991, committed suicide shortly after returning to the U.S.
Walum described her last conversation with her brother, where they made plans for him to come visit her the following week. At the time, Walum thought she heard something in her brother’s voice, but brushed it off after she asked him if he was OK and he told her he was. “I didn’t feel he was OK,” Walum said.
Donna Hardy, a Virginia educator, shared the new “norm” she faces as a teacher trying to explain to young students what is going on without scaring them, but ensuring they listen.
“Ultimately, children are children. When you close the classroom door, they like to talk to their friends and they see it as an opportunity for some free time,” she said.
Fredericksburg surgeon, Dr. Hank Wicker, who did his specialty training in surgery, oncology and trauma in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s, recounted how during that time, he helped treat hundreds of gunshot victims in the inner city.
“I still have occasional nightmares of those days. Countless broken bodies—bloody, lying at my feet. It’s a horrible, haunting image that I still cannot shake,” said Wicker.
The common denominator for all gun violence, including violence involving inner-city youth where he has the majority of his experience, is easy access to “all kinds of firearms,” said Wicker.
Recently, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to hold a special session July 9 that will focus on gun-control legislation in response to the Virginia Beach shooting.
“We’re hopeful that things may get actually out for a vote now, for two reasons: It puts lawmakers on the record with how they feel about something. ... It also hopefully will open a dialogue and give us an opportunity to have a discussion about what we can all agree on to make all of us safer,” said Borzi–Hedges.
At the event’s conclusion, Borzi–Hedges said, “The needle is moving. This conversation would not have happened five or six years ago, but if we look around this room in Fredericksburg, Va. … see the people who took their Saturday night and showed up to show their support for better gun policies.”