BELLINGHAM, Wash. – More than 100 people gathered outside Bellingham City Hall Saturday at a rally for gun control, one of many held nationally in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting Saturday.
March For Our Lives Rally to End Gun Violence was organized by Julia Ban and Philip Hofmann and featured speakers including 17-year-old Bellingham Techincal College student Dalaynee Jo Nord, poet and activist Jordan Smith, therapist Tracy Wiesneskie and state Reps. Alicia Rule, Alex Ramel and Sharon Shewmake.
Paul Kramer, an activist and father of a shooting survivor, began with a land acknowledgment for the Lummi and Nooksack people.
“We’re here today to say this is not OK,” Kramer said. “These mass shootings of innocent children and people have got to stop. Before going on, it’s important for us to acknowledge that this beautiful place is the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Lummi and Nooksack peoples … We humbly offer this land acknowledgment with gratefulness for their enduring care for this shared land and waters. May we honor and nurture our relationship with our Coast Salish neighbors as we shoulder our shared responsibilities to their homelands where we all reside today.”
“I care because I nearly lost my son to gun violence,” Kramer said, explaining his own experience and connection to the issue. “In Mukilteo in the summer of 2016, my then 18-year-old son, Will, whom I love, was severely injured from being shot in the back by an angry young man with an AR-15 type assault riffle. … Three people murdered, one severely injured, fifteen others seriously traumatized with countless others affected as the effects rippled out to family members, friends, community members and ever-widening circles.”
Kramer explained that he has been actively working on this issue since the shooting involving his son even though he had little to no public speaking experience, he began doing press conferences. He said he started with a press conference at the hospital with his son’s doctors, then he was asked to do a press conference with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson in support of his requested legislation to reduce gun violence, then began working with gun violence prevention organizations. In 2018, he served as a citizen sponsor for Initiative 1639, which was passed by Washington voters.
“It is now written into the laws of Washington state,” Kramer said about the initiative that bans sales of semiautomatic assault rifles to people under 21 years of age. “I just want to say these measures, these common-sense, reasonable measures, are needed nationwide.”
Kramer ended his introduction with a plea to the community to get involved with this issue.
“My point is, if I can do it, you can do it, too.” Kramer said. “Your voice matters. These shootings need to stop. The system that allows these shootings to continue must change. It’s become a public health issue. One of the foundational purposes of our government is to create conditions for its people to have a safe place to live, to honor our inalienable right to life. Our culture has become too violent. For the sake of safer, less violent communities, we need you.”
Sisters Lacey Hill and Kelly Hill attended the rally and said they were angry that gun control has been an issue for so long.
“I’m here today to stand in solidarity for those who are wanting more gun control in the United States,” Lacey Hill said. “I’d like to see assault rifles and assault weapons off of our streets, completely banned in the United States. … I’m standing in the exact same spot I was in 2018 and I’m mad, I’m really mad that I’m still here and I have the same message.”
“The fact that we still have to be here and little children shouldn’t have to worry about going to school and being safe,” Kelly Hill said. “The day after the (Uvalde school shooting), I got a call from a very good friend of mine, who’s a single mom, who wept dropping her kid off at school because she was so terrified and I didn’t have any words of comfort.”
Emotions ran high as speakers addressed the crowd talking about their personal experiences and how they have contributed to the fight against gun violence. Rep. Rule spoke about her work serving as vice chair for the Children, Youth and Families Committee, and on the Community Economic Development and Capital Budget Committee.
“Well, we did it, America: The most common way for a child to die in this country is no longer a car accident; it’s gun death,” Rule began. “For all the time that we spent making laws about car seats, about traffic laws, about safety standards, about crosswalk signs and seat belts, we’ve surpassed all of it. Our kids deserve to be safe and it’s our job to protect them. That’s why I proudly supported common-sense gun legislation in this last legislative section.”
Rule said that while that is good and a great reason to celebrate, we are not done yet.
“I’m here to tell you that the day of the Texas massacre, like so many other parents in this country, I struggled what to tell my children about what had just happened again,” Rule said. “That evening we went to dinner and as we were enjoying our dinner my teenager said, ‘Mom, I hear gunshots,’ and my instinct was, ‘No, that’s not gunshots,’ but it was gunshots right outside our restaurant. What I later learned was a threat of a drive-by shooting in Bellingham.”
Rule explained that the next day, she got a text message saying there was a lockdown and a threat of a gun in her children’s school. She said she waited with other parents for over three hours to get answers, while some parents were receiving text messages from their middle school students saying, “I’m being really quiet, ” “I’m shaking,” “I’m scared, ” “I can hear things in the hallway.”
“We waited with no word from our elementary school students,” Rule continued. “And I wondered, with the only comfort that I had, ‘Did it help that I taught my third grader the night before to watch out for windows?’ This is not OK. This is our problem right here, right now.”
Rep. Ramel agreed with Rule that this is an issue in which everyone needs to be involved .
“Next year we can, and we should, become the next state to pass an assault weapons ban,” Ramel said. “I have to tell you that that legislation is a heavy lift and we need everyone working together.”
Ramel listed bills that passed over the last year including bans on untraceable “ghost” guns, preventing open carry at public meetings and preventing the sales and distribution of high-capacity magazines.
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