Five years ago today, the nation was shocked to see the news out of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were gunned down.
Today, local civic groups are doing what they can to make sure people don't forget.
The Sandy Hook Remembrance Interfaith Vigil will be presented by the Auburn chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America along with Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship .
The event will take place at 7 p.m. this evening at Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, located at 450 E. Thach Ave.
The program will feature gun violence prevention speakers, talks by local members of the Every Town Survivor Network, music and more.
A movement that has grown
Moms Demand Action was founded by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts on Dec. 15, 2012, the day after the Sandy Hook shooting. The movement originally began as a Facebook group and has since grown to have around 3.5 million supporters.
Anne Leader, an Auburn resident and Moms Demand Action Alabama chapter leader , got connected with Moms Demand Action in 2015 when she organized a walk in downtown Auburn to commemorate the Sandy Hook shooting. She said she has been interested in gun violence prevention since a high school classmate took her own life with a gun.
“When I was in 10th grade, which was in 1986, my classmate, whose name was Rachel, killed herself with a gun that had been left unsecure in her house,” Leader said. “I went to a pretty small school in Houston, Texas, and it was quite traumatic for our class, and ever since then, I have been interested in finding ways so that doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Moms Demand Action envisions a country where all children and families are safe from gun violence. The nonpartisan grassroots movement has grown to include a chapter in every state across the country. The group educates, motivates, and mobilizes supporters to take action that will result in stronger laws and policies to save lives from gun violence.
“We believe in order to honor the victims of Sandy Hook and San Bernardino and Orlando and Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, the best way that we can honor them is to take action,” Leader said. “So, we are going to be working to counter the gun lobby, which is pushing many laws that would weaken restrictions on guns rather than strengthen them. We really want to effect a change in our gun violence problem and get that number down.”
Leader started as the Auburn chapter leader and is now the Alabama chapter leader. There are five Moms Demand Action groups in Alabama, including Auburn, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Mobile. There are also chapters in every state in the country, as well as the District of Columbia.
Many of the supporters of Moms Demand Action, such as Leader, are not mothers.
“It was started by a mother and a lot of our members are moms, but we are open to anyone who is interested in preventing gun violence,” Leader said. “We like to say if you are a mom or you have a mom, you belong in Moms Demand Action.”
I mproving background checks
In 2013, Moms Demand Action joined with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group consisting of city mayors against gun violence, and formed Everytown for Gun Safety. Together, they are the largest gun violence prevention group in the country.
Everytown conducts original research about gun violence, which helps determine what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to preventing gun violence.
Leader said the group has worked hard at the state level to change gun legislation, and their primary focus is improving the background check system. One focus for the group is to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, in which background checks are run by any licensed dealer.
“The NICS System has some holes in it,” Leader said. “If you buy a gun online or from an unlicensed dealer, or at a garage sale or something like that, under federal law there’s no background check on that. We’ve been working at the state level to try to strengthen that system, in large part because there’s just been no movement at the national level.”
Sandy Hook Remembrance
Auburn's remembrance is part of a nationwide tribute in partnership with the Newtown Foundation, Newtown Action Alliance, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown Survivor Network, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Organizing for Action, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, St. Marks Episcopal Church and Women's March.
This is the second year Auburn has coordinated on a remembrance event with the Newtown Alliance. Tuscaloosa and Birmingham are also hosting events.
Leader said there is still plenty of progress to be made.
“People really thought that if 20 children and six educators are killed at an elementary school that maybe now we will finally do something about our gun violence problem,” she said. “Even though we’ve had a lot of success with our movement, in terms of growth and education and some victories at state houses across the country, 93 Americans on average still die from gun violence every day.”
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