Anti-Gun Violence Marchers Protest School Shootings

Liz Brown’s children attend Wilson County schools. She’s petitioning officials to increase school safety and complains, “Everyone’s sitting back and allowing this to be the normal.” Photo by Clare Bratten

NASHVILLE, TN — Nearly 11 thousand rallied here against gun violence March 24. Millions protested worldwide. Some 500,000 marched on Washington after President Trump issued a legally questionable bump-stock ban and left town.

“This is about stopping the violence, stopping guns in our school system, stopping guns in the hands of our youth, and bringing peace to our community,” said Pastor Monterey D. Lee Sr., Celebration Christian Center, 1215 9th Ave., North, Nashville.

Vanderbilt University student Abby Brafman organized Nashville’s march. She’s a 2017 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed on Valentine’s Day.

Many marching for their lives are too young to vote. Protesters conducted voter registration drives. They “rallied in all 50 states and in Washington,” reports. Marches were in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Spain and Sydney.
The Florida school shooting feels like a tipping point among people fed-up with gun violence. Many placards said “Enough!”

Brafman complimented news media for “not letting this just be forgotten like a lot of other shootings and other tragedies.”

People shouldn’t be discouraged if new gun laws aren’t enacted soon, Brafman said. Little’s been done since other massacres. People should “feel inspired by the fact that the children that were here today and the teens that got to witness this and got to participate in it — they are going to grow up with that knowledge … they have the right to do anything like this whenever they want.”

In April 2007, a Virginia Tech student killed 32 people in Blacksburg, Va. In December 2012, 26 school children died in the Sandy Hook massacre at Newtown, Conn., where 20 victims were first and second-graders. School gun massacres are a particularly American phenomenon.

Liz Brown’s children attend Wilson County schools. She’s petitioning officials to increase school safety and complains, “Everyone’s sitting back and allowing this to be the normal.”

School shootings happen about once a week somewhere in America. Since 2000, there’ve been 188. More than 200 students have died. Compared to other countries, America is the most dangerous place in the world to attend school.
“Anytime there’s been significant change in this country it’s always been led by young people,” said state Rep. Brenda Gilmore.

Gun violence isn’t just a school problem, Gilmore said. “Even if it’s black on black crime, even the kids in Chicago or the youth we’ve lost in Nashville, anytime guns are involved, we need to say enough is enough.”

The Sandy Hook school massacre was in Aimee Alexander’s town. “A gun is not worth more than a child. We march for our children … We march for those silenced by bullets and not just the bullets fired in schools. We march for the black lives lost and the black voices that have been ignored for years,” she told Saturday’s crowd at City Hall.

Cillea Houghton, Peter White and Clare Bratten collaborated for this story. Almost all of their original dispatches follow.

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By Peter White

There were 800 similar protests around the country and as far away as Australia. The rally in Washington D.C. drew an estimated half million people.

A group of Vanderbilt students organized the March For Our Lives rally in Nashville after 17 students and teachers were killed in Parkland, Florida last month. It was the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
The March 24 protest here began in front of City Hall. Protesters marched to Capitol Hill and returned to hear songs and speeches from students and teachers.

“Any politician who refuses to take a stand for our children is complicit in their murders,” said Dr. Sterling Haring who has treated young gunshot victims in the emergency room.

He wants new laws and warned politicians who take money from the gun lobby.

“We will vote you out and replace you with someone better,” Dr. Sterling said.

Geography teacher Mariah Phillips of Murfreesboro, a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for the congressional seat held by Scott DesJarlais, said, “We are again at a time when students are taking the lead and changing the world.”

School shootings happen about once a week somewhere in the country. Since 2000, there have been 188 cases and more than 200 students have died. Compared to other countries, the U.S. is the most dangerous place in the world to go to school.

Researchers at the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis found 57 incidents of school killing in 36 countries between 2000 and 2010. Twenty-six of them occurred in the U.S.

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By Cillea Houghton

Abby Brafman, a 19-year-old student at Vanderbilt University who organized the Nashville march and rally, is a 2017 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“I was entirely unsure of how many people were going to come out here today because of the incoming weather and we just had no idea what kind of impact that would have. They say that with an event like this, the amount of people that register to come, always expect half. So, there was only 6,000 or so actually registered, but I had feeling it was going to be a lot bigger than that, but I wasn’t sure.”

Brafman expected 3,000 to 5,000.

“I was really hoping for 10,000 to 15,000 and we hit that and I’m so happy and I’m also just so shocked and happy with the fact that people stayed after the march to listen to the rally and listen to the speakers and I think it just reemphasizes the point that we have this platform and people are really paying attention to it.”

As for Brafman’s thoughts on people’s awareness of the issue: “I think the media and the news has done a great job of capturing what has happened and keeping this up in the news and in the media and not letting this just be forgotten like a lot of other shootings and other tragedies are, … I think that’s … really important. And just the amount of people that came out, I know I’m incorrect in saying this, but I just don’t see how you can disagree with us. Like what we’re doing is fighting for our right to feel safe. I don’t understand why it’s so controversial and I wish people could just take a step back from themselves and understand that we just want to be alive…

“I think the biggest thing is I don’t want people to feel discouraged if no bills are passed and if no legislature changes because I do want people to feel inspired by the fact that the children that were here today and the teens that got to witness this and got to participate in it, they are going to grow up with that knowledge in their back pocket that they have the right to do anything like this whenever they want. I didn’t ask for permission to do something like this and I know that they will take that and move forward with it.”

On how people should capitalize on the momentum of the march and turn it into more action and results: “We need to be smart. I think people need to take a minute. It’s okay to breathe. The support is there. Things don’t need to be as rushed and frenetic as they’ve been so far and I think we need to come up with a long-term, comprehensive plan for how we’re going to move forward from this and I don’t exactly know what that looks like. I’m not the expert. I really was thrown into this, but I’m working really hard to educate myself and I’m going to stay educated and keep educating myself on how to make this even better than it is right now.”

What leaders/politicians needs to do to bring about change: “I think people just need to stick to basic human morals and values. I think it’s really easy. I’ve experienced it just a little. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the bureaucratic ties. Just stick to your values. If you are a person who started running for office because you felt passionate about a certain cause or you were passionate about change or whatever that is. And now, I understand you’re old, you’re tied up in money and positions and all those different things, but just go back to your roots, remember who you were as a teenager and remember what you cared about and what you were fighting for at the beginning.”

LEAD Academy students Chandler Davis and Adam Smith won an essay contest on gun violence and presented at the rally.
On writing the essay and how it was inspired, Davis said: “There were a lot of pieces in there that were really personal for me such as the inmate number, that’s actually my brother’s inmate number. He’s in jail because of a gun and when I was contacted about this opportunity, I was just like ‘well let me do something that people can relate to on any level,’ whether you have somebody in jail, you know somebody. Everybody goes through things like this, so I figured let’s just see what I can come up with, I dreamt it up, called up a buddy of mine and said ‘Hey, you want to do this?’”

Smith said, “This is something that’s relevant … why pass up the opportunity to do something great?”

Why was it important for them to participate in the rally and share this message?

Davis: “We’re students, this happened in a school. Like we said, this is relevant, it’s in our city. This isn’t the first time it’s happened and sadly, it’s probably not going to be the last. But I feel like it’s our duty, as the new generation, to try to make a difference any way that we can, whether that be speaking out or just letting somebody hear our story and let our voices be heard.”
Smith: “And raising awareness is the place to start. This is a great way to start.”
How should the momentum of the march be channeled into more action and results?
Smith: “I feel like rallies like this are the heart of a new beginning.”
Davis: “People shouldn’t be so afraid to step up. My heart’s still pumping” with adrenaline from giving speech in front of thousands of people. “That took a lot of courage and … once people find that courage inside themselves, it inspires so many more people. I hope that we touched somebody out there. There’s a lot of people out there, but I hope at least one person got the message and will say something.”
What should leaders/politicians do to make students feel safer and bring about change:
Smith: “I feel like some people don’t understand how badly we’re affected by this because it’s in our schools and stuff like that. We see it on a daily and we talk about how to make it safe and stuff like that. But I don’t really think that initiative is being pushed in this situation, so I just think taking it a lot more seriously than how it’s been taken.”
Davis: “Definitely taking it a lot more seriously. I feel like people think this is just something that happens on TV. You think because it hasn’t happened in your school specifically that it can’t happen to you, you feel like you’re immune to it. But obviously, that’s not the case. I’m pretty sure none of those kids in Florida ever thought that was going to happen to them. It’s real and I feel like people need to start taking it more serious.”
What does the Nashville community need to do to help alleviate and take more action in fighting this issue?
Smith: “Just coming together. All the people that showed up today just coming to support, that’s a start, that’s a great start. And then I feel like that’s going to bring the community together as a whole. We’re sort of segregated, not as a people, but mindset wise. But I think coming together as a people is going to bring a lot more outcome to this.”
Davis: “This is definitely the first step and it only takes one person to bring a lot of people together, and hopefully us two were able to do that today.”

Smith is registered and plans to vote. Davis plans to vote when she’s 18 next year.

State Rep. Brenda Gilmore said she “wanted to be here to support the young people. These are our leaders, our future leaders. And anytime there’s ever been significant change in this country has always been led by young people. During the Civil Rights movement, we saw young people from Fisk and Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt, Belmont, Trevecca, American Baptist College, and this is no different.”

Gilmore on students at Vanderbilt taking the lead with this march: “They have corralled young people from high schools, from all over this state, to come to tell us as lawmakers that enough is enough and I think it’s a very good cause because guns do kill. So I think if we can get anything out of this march, if we can just get the assault rifles out of our communities, if we can do background checks, I will consider that a major, major victory. And I’m here to lend my support to them and let them know that I’m listening to their young voices and I’m proud that they’re turning their tragedy into action, not violence, but into action.”

The most important or inspiring messages to come out of the march/rally, Gilmore said, is “seeing the young people. Even all ages, moms and dads have even brought little ones that are still in elementary school, so I think they’re teaching them an important message is that we care what happens in our community. So that’s the most important message that we’re coming together and we care about what’s going on in Tennessee and we care what’s going on in our country.”

As for prompting action, Gilmore said, “We see action already. I think we just have to be mindful to not let this be a one-day event, but this be a movement to continue to put pressure on us as legislators, reminding us that this is important cause. We have many important causes in Tennessee, but certainly nothing as important as lives.”
As for what politicians and legislators need to do in the state to bring about results regarding gun violence, Gilmore said, “We need to pass legislation. We need to change laws. We need to stand with our young people.”

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By Clare Bratten

Liz Brown has children who attend class in the Wilson County school district.

“I have tried to get a meeting with the director of schools,” Brown said. “They are just giving me the run around. I actually had a meeting set up with some of the PTO moms and they cancelled out on me. They are aware of my intention. I gave a copy to the school principal of my boy’s school, Miss Rainey. She never called back or emailed me letting me know how she felt about my petition. I am hoping to see how many signatures I can gather to increase the safety of our schools. The community is not being supportive. No one’s stepping it up. Everyone’s sitting back and allowing this to be the normal. And I refuse.”

The principal is Leigh Anne Rainey at Mt. Juliet Middle School.