RACINE — Six hundred small orange flags dotted the grassy slope of Sam Johnson Parkway on Sunday. Leann Pomaville, the leader of the Racine chapter of Moms Demand Action, said they symbolized the number of people who die every year in Wisconsin due to gun violence.
Moms Demand Action is a national organization started after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, according to the group’s website. It is associated with the group Everytown For Gun Safety founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Pomaville said she got involved with the organization in part because she herself is a survivor of gun violence — in the early 90s she was held up at gunpoint. And she’s worried that her teenage children could be the next school shooting victims if something doesn’t change.
Along with Racine-area politicians, community leaders and a few students, Pomaville spoke about gun violence and how the threat of future gun violence affects their communities during the Moms Demand Action rally Sunday.
“We are pro-second amendment,” Pomaville told the crowd of about 50. “But we think there needs to be common sense gun laws to keep people in Wisconsin, and in the United States, and our children everywhere safe.”
The kids are not all right
One common theme among the speakers, particularly with the teens, was how a culture of fear and acceptance of gun violence is affecting the young.
“We are in a moment in this country where our young people are growing up in a culture of being accustomed to mass shootings and gun violence,” said state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine.
Racine Mayor Cory Mason, who has young children, talked about how disaster preparedness has changed since he was young.
“We used to do tornado drills — now our kids do active shooter drills,” said Mason. “That’s how much the culture has changed in this country.”
Kejuan Goldsmith, a junior at Case High School, described the stress of being a student in a time of frequent school shootings.
“What I should be worried about is getting the very best grades—not whether or not my classroom will be the next headline due to tragedy,” said Goldsmith. “My classmates and I know something can be done. And we have been waiting and we are alarmed by the inaction of our leaders.”
“How many more shootings need to happen before we need to do something different?” he said.
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Lauren Moody, a senior at Walden III School who organized the school’s March for Our Lives event, spoke extensively about the constant fear of being a gun violence victim.
“Politicians don’t understand that every day my fellow classmates and I feel like a target,” said Moody. “We’re always asking, are we next? Is our school next?”
Like Goldsmith, Mooney was also frustrated by a lack of action by legislators to curb gun violence.
“We all have ideas to solve this issue but I don’t think anybody has the right answer right now,” she said. “This isn’t a problem for either the right or the left to solve—this is a problem for everybody.”
Ultimately she called for cooperation.
“If we can all come together and use our ideas and try to solve this epidemic, then we can make a difference.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said before the rally that it is “more of a political event and I don’t want to use any kind of tragedies for politics.”
Vos said Wisconsin has an enhanced background check for handgun purchases which includes additional databases, like the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, “that you would not do if you bought the same weapon in another state.”
“We passed legislation that would have expanded it to all weapons in the state, so if you bought a long gun, a handgun, whatever, you would go through this much more rigorous background check system,” Vos said. “It passed, then it went to the Senate, where unfortunately it died.”
Despite that setback, Vos said Wisconsin has “probably the best background check system in the country for handguns,” and those on the opposing side should focus on what can get bipartisan support instead of an “all or nothing” approach.
“What a lot of folks want to do is turn this into a political issue, and I think that’s really sad,” Vos said. “I think there is some common sense gun legislation like we passed in the Assembly that we can focus on accomplishing.”
“We used to do tornado drills — now our kids do active shooter drills. That’s how much the culture has changed in this country.” Mayor Cory Mason