Residents protest gun violence in schools

Demonstrate outside legislators' offices

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  • Members of the Brady Campaign protest gun violence outside the local offices of state legislators. Photos by Meghan Byers

  • Sparta resident Mike Vrabel, on the right in the green cap, addresses fellow demonstrators in the bitter cold

  • Sue Hannon, far right, president of the county chapter of the Brady Campaign, asked the group: “When are we going to say, ‘This is enough?’”

By Meghan Byers

— About 20 demonstrators from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gathered last Friday afternoon outside the District 24 legislative offices of state Sen. Steve Oroho and Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths, all Republican representatives of New Jersey’s 24th district.

Announced as the “Rally to Save Our Children From Gun Violence,” the demonstration was organized to call attention to government inaction following the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Bundled up against the bitter cold, the demonstrators stood in the snow on the side of the legislative building parking lot, bearing signs with messages such as “Your A+ NRA rating is a failure on gun sense,” referring to the National Rifle Association, which rates elected officials based on their gun rights voting record.

“We’re here today because we’re outraged at the inaction of our government, time and time again,” said Sue Hannon, Sparta resident and president of the Sussex County chapter of the Brady Campaign. She went on to list a few of the mass shootings that have occurred over the past several years, including those at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut and Virginia Tech.

“When are we going to say, ‘This is enough?’” Hannon asked the crowd.

Oroho, Space, and Wirths did not directly address or attend the rally, but released a statement shortly beforehand which advocated for stronger school security measures. In particular, they proposed outfitting classrooms with bulletproof doors with locking mechanisms.

“We are not talking about wood doors – but doors used in places like bank counting rooms,” the statement read. “We need to create safe spaces in schools so that students and teachers can avoid any perpetrator that may be prowling the hallways.”

(See the legislators’ press release on Page 13.)

Hannon agreed that school security measures are “a piece of the puzzle.” However, she argued, “Another piece is keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

She named increased background checks and allowing more research into gun violence as possible strategies to prevent future mass shootings.

“We’re not after anyone’s guns,” Hannon said. “It’s not even part of the discussion. [...] We’re here because we’re hoping to bring awareness to Sparta and surrounding towns about what our elected officials are voting for.”

According to Hannon, attendance at the Brady Campaign’s regular meetings has more than doubled after the mass shooting in Parkland.

One demonstrator told the group that after the Parkland shooting and the response of student survivors, “I had to get out there and get involved... We’re on the right path if we’re following these kids.”

“Parkland said to me that you can’t just sit, that this is something I had to get involved in,” echoed Ann Pompelio, a Sparta resident.

“We need more people to be aware,” Hannon said. “Change is going to come from the bottom.”

The Brady Campaign will also be in attendance at the March For Our Lives event on Saturday, March 24, beginning at 12 PM on the Newton Green. The march is planned concurrently with the national March For Our Lives demonstration, which was organized by student survivors of the Parkland shooting and will take place on the same day in Washington DC.

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