“What do we want?” one protest sign asked. “Assault weapon bans,” said another.
“When do we want them?” was one more question answered with, “NOW!”
Those were the sentiments displayed when about 30 people gathered on one side of Kings Highway North in Cherry Hill on Nov. 1 to remember the 18 victims of a mass shooting the week before in Maine.
The vigil and rally at the edge of the Unitarian Universalist Church – put together by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – gave the South Jersey community a space to both honor the lives lost and advocate for gun safety.
CNN called the Maine murders “the deadliest U.S. mass shooting since last year’s massacre at a school in Uvalde, Texas,” where 19 children and two teachers were killed, and the deadliest shooting so far this year.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of Nov. 2, there have been 36,111 gun violence deaths this year, with about 5% of them suicides and 44% homicides, murder, unintentional or defensive gun use. Guns are now the number-one cause of death in children and teens; that distinction was previously held by car accidents.
“As a society, we must act. Gun violence continues to impact community after community, neighborhood after neighborhood, and in both private and community spaces, enough is enough,” said Helen Ewan, chair of the gun violence prevention task force at the Universalist Church.
“The continued inaction from our leaders on gun-safety reform is unacceptable,” she added. “We speak this truth today and we’ll continue to do so until we have change. We must continue to push for reasonable gun-safety regulations so we can build a society free from fear, harm and violence.”
Cherry Hill’s Lisa Winkler, events co-leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the group’s last vigil was held the day of the shooting in Uvalde last May.
“As we were out here, we had to keep changing our signs, because the death numbers were climbing,” she recalled. “How horrific was that?”
The Oct. 25 Maine shooting took place at the Just-in-Time Recreation Bowling Alley and Schemengees Bar and Grille Restaurant in the town of Lewiston and also injured 13 people. The suspect was found dead of an apparent suicide 48 hours after the attack.
A few participants at the local protest had printed the names, faces and ages of the dead. They were:
- Aaron Young, 14
- Tom Comrad 34
- Maxx Hathaway, 35
- Joshua Seal, 36
- Bryan MacFartane, 40
- Peyton Brewer-Ross, 40
- Arthur Strout, 42
- Bill Young, 44
- Stephen Vozzella, 45
- Bill Brackett, 48
- Jason Walker, 51
- Michael Deslauriers II, 51
- Tricia Asselin, 53
- Ron Morin, 55
- Joseph Walker, 57
- Keith Macneir, 64
- Lucille Violette, 73
- Bob Violette, 76
“We honor the victims of Lewiston, people who were going about their daily lives, enjoying the company of friends when they were senselessly murdered,” Ewan stated. “The murdered were members participating in a cornhole tournament. A 14-year-old child and his father, husband and wife who devoted themselves to volunteer work, two best friends who died defending others, a new father, a ship builder, a sign-anguage interpreter, a truck driver, a postal worker, beloved fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters ranging in age from 14 to 76, all of whom deserved to come home to their families last Wednesday.
“We grieve for their families and pray for the recovery of the 13 people who were wounded.”
“It’s important to let people know that we can’t normalize this in America,” Winkler observed. “We’ve got to react and we’ve got to do something and we’ve got to spur people into action. The best thing they can do right now is vote for gun sense candidates.”
Congressman Andy Kim also sent a statement, read by Kristen Foca.
“It was heartbreaking to watch another community torn apart by another mass shooting,” he said. “I mourn with the dozens of families whose worlds were shattered and whose loved ones ripped away to never come back … Gun violence does not happen in a vacuum. The pain and grief is felt across our country and is with us here today.
“We are letting generations of children and families down if we do not take this pain and turn it into action to save lives.”
Members from the Unitarian Universalist church led the protesters in singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “We Shall Overcome” before they raised their signs along the highway. Other speakers encouraged advocating for a ban on assault weapons at the federal level, universal background checks and universal extreme-risk protection orders, which allow petitioners to file for court orders that demand guns be taken from someone who is believed to pose a threat to themselves or others.
To learn more about Moms Demand Action, visit https://momsdemandaction.org/