Moms Demand Action holds march to bring awareness to gun violence

David Floyd • Jun 3, 2017 at 11:36 PM

A week after she performed with her high school marching band at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago. 

Her death sparked a national movement, and on Saturday, for the third time since Pendleton was killed, demonstrators across the country — participating in more than 250 events — wore orange to honor her memory. 

In Johnson City, dozens of local advocates dressed in various shades of orange marched from Carver Park to Founders Park Saturday afternoon as part of a demonstration hosted by the local chapter of Moms Demand Action.

The event was part of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

Protestors big and small carried signs with messages like “Everytown for Gun Safety” and “No More Silence, End Gun Violence.”

“The main goal is to honor survivors and also to bring awareness to the fact that we have gun violence everywhere and that there are things we can do to prevent it,” said Vicki Powers, local chapter leader for Tri-Cities Moms Demand Action. “We are not helpless.”

Saturday marked the second year the organization has hosted the event. Powers said the group performs various forms of advocacy and education to bring awareness to and curb gun violence. Among other things, the group works to educate adults about safe storage of firearms to protect children and to keep criminals, such as perpetrators of domestic violence, from getting guns.

“We are not against the Second Amendment,” Powers said “We just want better regulation — especially in the public because a lot of people want to carry in public, and we feel that’s dangerous. ... We’re not trying to take away guns.”

Before the march, participants listened to speeches by three local advocates, including city commissioner and former Johnson City mayor Ralph Van Brocklin.

“Common sense ... says guns stay in the woods, guns stay on the farm and guns stay at the house,” Brocklin said.

Brocklin said he is no stranger to firearms. He grew up with guns and carried one as a security guard. He supports the Second Amendment, but he believes there is an important addendum:

“It’s my belief that the proliferation of gun carrying in public does not confer greater security upon our populace, but instead creates real issues for public safety personnel and increases the likelihood that weapons will be used in fear, in psychoses and in anger,” he said.

Brocklin said many state legislators do not share his concerns about the proliferation of firearms in public and are legislating to allow them in more and more circumstances.

“We are less safe because we have a government that does not listen to pleas of reasonable common-sense exceptions in the Second Amendment,” Brocklin said.

The Rev. Vincent Dial, a local pastor and the second of the three speakers, told a story about a young man he knew named Marlin who witnessed his best friend get gunned down in front of him. Marlin was like a nephew to Dial.

Recently, Dial received a tragic phone call about Marlin: He had been shot and killed in his own home.

“When he returned to home, there were burglars upstairs trying to steal a flat screen television,” Dial said. “He lost his life because of a flat screen television.”

Dial stressed that everyone is vulnerable to gun violence. “If someone wanted to come in here and wreak mayhem on this group, they could do that.”

The final speaker, Murphy Johnson, is an engineer at ShotSpotter who works on gunshot detection systems. 

Johnson lives on the outskirts of Johnson City and hears gunshots on occasion — typically they come from a mile or two away from his house or a farm down the hill. Most of the time, he writes them off as a couple of guys shooting at tin cans or a farmer shooting at a coyote or a snake.

“It’s not something that I really worry about much,” he said. “I am fortunate enough to live in an area where I can make those assumptions. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country live in areas where gunshots cause a parent to instantly and fearfully think, ‘Where are my kids?’”

Gun violence entered the foreground of Powers’ mind after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a tragedy that left 6 adults and 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 dead. She has four grandchildren. 

“I think the main thing is people who are worried about this problem feel helpless and they don’t know what they can do.” Powers said. “We’re here to provide avenues for things you can do and make a difference.”

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