Protestors hold signs against gun violence June 4, 2022 in Carbondale, Ill. (Ethan Braun | [email protected])
Protestors hold signs against gun violence June 4, 2022 in Carbondale, Ill.

Ethan Braun | [email protected]

Peace Coalition Demonstrates at Carbondale Pavilion for Gun Control

June 6, 2022

Commuters driving through the center of Carbondale on Saturday, June 4 may have noticed members of the Southern Illinois Peace Coalition brandishing signs near the Carbondale pavilion, displaying such messages as “ENOUGH,” “BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS” and “THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH OF CHILDREN ARE GUNS.”

These messages were motivated by the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where on May 24, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos walked into Robb Elementary School and took the lives of 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15 assault rifle. The rifle had been legally purchased from a local gun store a week prior, one day after Ramos’s 18th birthday.

In the wake of this horrific massacre, Southern Illinois Peace Coalition came to the Carbondale town square to demonstrate for an end to gun violence and for tighter legislation on gun control.

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Georgeann Hartzog, president of the Coalition chapter, said she believes the problem of gun violence stems, in part, from a misinterpretation of the second amendment.

“Statistics now show that the largest leading cause of death among children is guns,” Hartzog said. “It is really time for us to understand that a well-regulated militia is not what we’re getting with, you know, people’s arguments about the Second Amendment.”

A study done by the New England Journal of Medicine backs up Hartzog’s former statement. In 2020, firearms surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of child death in the United States, causing 4,357 child deaths in 2020 alone.

Hartzog said other nations such as Australia can provide a blueprint for the legislation she believes would be most effective in the United States.

“There are millions of [guns] on the streets in the U.S. today, and that’s really a failing of our society, our culture, if we allow that to happen,” Hartzog said. “No other industrialized or developed country allows that to happen. As a matter of fact, Australia, in the mid 90s, after a horrific mass killing, bought back the AR’s and the assault weapons that people had.”

In 1996-97, in the wake of a mass shooting at Port Arthur, the Australian government under prime minister John Howard implemented the National Firearm Agreement (NFA), a sweeping, mandatory buyback program for shotguns and assault rifles. This program would ultimately result in the peaceful retrieval and destruction of 650,000 guns.

”A 2001 study by researchers at Harvard compared the homicide and suicide rates before and after the the NFA, finding that the average firearm suicide rate in the seven years after the program declined by 57%, compared to the prior seven years, and that the average firearm homicide rate went down by about 42%.

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Another demonstrator, Dennis Connolly, criticized politicians from both major political parties for many shootings in recent years.

“It’s pitiful that Republicans and the Democrats haven’t made any moves on controlling the assault weapons or at least having raised the age of acquiring a weapon to 21,” Connolly said. “That seems to be a factor, right away, so why isn’t that in the national debate?”

Connolly also believes that there are greater, more systemic issues at play that have to do with electoralism and the way the American people elect their leaders.

“[There’s] got to be a focal debate on whether we’re a democracy or a plutocracy,” Connolly said. “I think we’re a plutocracy. We don’t really elect our president, the Electoral College does, and so that’s a bit spooky […] [Instead] we could have referendums, things like that, you know, and maybe leave the politicians out of it. Just put it on the ballot consistently.”

Randy Hughes, a member of the Coalition, believes a significant portion of the prevalent gun culture in the U.S. can be attributed to fear.

“I think that there has been a certain kind of politics of fear in this country that the NRA [National Rifle Association] is one piece of,” Hughes said. “And I think there are other issues, like immigration issues [and] other things where people build on that politics of fear and that has meant a lot of negative things for the country.”

In the wake of Uvalde, there have been calls for schools to take more actions in providing defense. Some have suggested directly arming teachers themselves. On this last point specifically, Hughes takes issue with the suggestion based on his personal experience with teachers.

“Knowing a lot of teachers that have been active in the Illinois Education Association (IEA),” Hughes said, “what I hear from teachers is that having them armed is not going to improve the situation. It’s going to provide more arms in the schools, and there’s so many ways that can go wrong, I think.”

There were several police officers that arrived on scene of the Robb Elementary School shooting and waited more than 40 minutes before entering the classroom where the shooter was. The police officers’ actions, or lack thereof, have sparked national outrage and a conversation on the effectiveness of school defense and policing.

Hughes believes that amping up defense is ultimately the wrong approach, even with policemen.

“I think that, in general, our ability to stop [shootings] is very, very low right now, even with heavily armed police,” Hughes said. “I think [we need] to keep those kinds of weapons out of more people’s hands and particularly people that might, by their lack of security measures, allow [them] to fall into the hands of people who will use them for this kind of purpose.”

Staff reporter Ethan Braun can be reached at [email protected].

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