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How A Texas Activist Fights Gun Violence

The death of a child is a parent’s greatest fear. A nightmare that has become reality for a thousand parents this year. Since January, more than 765 children under the age of 17 have been killed by gunfire in the USA. That’s roughly the equivalent of thirty primary school classes. Thirty classrooms filled with sons and daughters that have died as a consequence of gun-related violence.

As tragic and heartbreaking as it is, gun violence seems to be the norm in the U.S. Firearm injuries, whether caused by accidents, homicides, suicides or legal interventions, are the third leading cause of death among American children aged 1 to 17 years, the journal Paediatrics stated in 2017.

As another school year begins, a majority of American teens don’t feel safe going back to school. Surveys conducted by Pew Research Center after the Parkland massacre last February in Florida found that 57% of teens are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school – with one in four saying they are very worried. Only 13% are not worried at all.

The government’s answer to the growing calls for action to prevent gun violence in schools does nothing to reassure them. President Trump’s controversial solution is to fight gun violence with guns: arming teachers. His argument? “If schools are mandated to be gun free zones,” he tweeted in March, “violence and danger are given an open invitation to enter. Almost all school shootings are in gun free zones. Cowards will only go where there is no deterrent!”

“To think that a teacher would have to make a decision to kill a student or anyone on top of having the duties and responsibility to teach is a lot to put on a teacher,” says Diana Earl, a gun violence prevention activist from Austin, Texas. “President Trump and the gun lobby are trying to stir up fear to sell more guns. Their plan isn’t preventative. Instead of lawmakers focusing on preventing this from occurring, we are getting our teachers prepared for combat.”

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Diana Earl and photo of her son Dedrick. Courtesy Diana Earl

And it could be worse for minorities, she adds, making reference to Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man who was shot 20 times by California police after they mistook his mobile phone for a weapon. “If blacks are getting killed because a cell phone looks like a gun” she says, “then who is to say black children won’t get killed because they are having a not-so-good-day and angrily walking with a cell phone in their hand that may look like a gun?”

Diana has been fighting to change gun laws and culture for two years. She joined the gun prevention movement Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in January 2017, exactly two months after her only son, 22-year-old Dedrick, was shot and killed while visiting a friend.

“I went down to the Texas state capitol where I was met by over 250 Moms Demand Action volunteers who showed up that day to tell our state representatives we want stronger gun laws, and we oppose a bill to allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.”

Gun violence prevention movement

Moms Demand Action was founded by Shannon Watts in December 2012, in response to the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adult staff members were killed.

What started as a Facebook page has grown into a national movement. Moms Demand Action have chapters in all 50 American states and a powerful grassroots network of moms who have had enough of senseless and preventable gun violence. Over the past six years, the movement has grown to be one of the biggest oppositions to gun lobbying, and has successfully effected change at the local, state and national level.

As a volunteer, Diana reaches out to gun violence survivors in the community. She works to educate them about the gun violence prevention movement and the Everytown Survivor Network. The network, which brings together Americans who have been personally affected by gun violence, builds a community of support, empowering survivors to share their stories and become leaders in campaigns to support common sense gun laws.

“Ninety-six Americans die every day from gun violence in America, and hundreds more are wounded. We may not get that number to zero, but we should absolutely be looking at ways to reduce these horrific statistics,” says Diana. “Each number is not just a victim, it’s a family, friends, and entire community. The ripple effect from gun violence runs deep.”

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Diana Earl (front, centre) and Moms Demand Action volunteers. Courtesy Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Contrary to the NRA’s sentiment that any gun laws reform is an assault on the Americans’ right to carry, Moms Demand Action are not against the possession of firearms. Rather, they demand action from lawmakers, companies and educational institutions to establish gun laws reforms that will ensure the safety of the American people.

With an estimated 393 million firearms in U.S homes – more than the American population – it only seems wise to have tight gun control.

“We respect the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens,” Diana tells us. “We need to keep guns out of the hands of people with dangerous histories and reduce the risk of easy access to weapons.”

As an instance, she explains how easy it is for many abusive partners to obtain guns – which makes it five times more likely that, during a domestic violence situation, the woman will be killed.

Enacting a federal Red Flag law is essential to prevent gun violence according to Diana. This policy empowers family members and law enforcement to petition a judge for an Extreme Risk Protection Order. Also called a Gun Violence Restraining Order, it temporarily restricts a person’s access to guns if they pose a danger to themselves or others.

A nationwide study of mass shootings from 2009 to 2016 revealed that in 42% of incidents the attacker exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting. Like Florida – which enacted its own Red Flag Law with bipartisan support in March 2018 – states around the country are turning to the policy as a sensible way to help reduce gun violence and gun suicide. Thirteen states have now enacted Red Flag Laws in place.

Those laws, coupled with criminal background checks on all gun sales, would help end senseless and preventable deaths by gun violence, Diana says.

Advocating for gun control in Texas

In gun-loving Texas laws do not regulate the possession of firearms. Any law-abiding resident that is at least 18 years old has the right to openly carry handguns if they have obtained the necessary permit by taking a safety course – training that can be done with a licensed instructor or online.

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Display of new and old guns, ammo, gun parts and related items. Houston Gun show, Texas. Photo under CC BY 2.0

Unlike many other survivors Diana hasn’t experienced any type of bullying from pro-gun activists. “I can sit in a room full of them and have conversations and not even feel intimidated,” she says. “I tell my story and my experience of losing my only child to gun violence and they usually don’t have a comeback for it. But I welcome a debate because it’s important to have a dialogue just to know where individuals stand on issues.”

Victims of gun violence in Texas hardly get the justice they deserve, which prompts Diana to work much harder. The man who shot her son, although charged with murder, was found not guilty a few months ago. “I was really disappointed, but I was not shocked”, she tells us. “What I’ve seen for the past few years is not guilty on a lot of verdicts that would otherwise be a guiltily verdict based on evidence, testimonies, and experts.”

Diana remains driven to keep fighting in her son’s honor and for the ninety-six Americans who die everyday from gun violence.

“I refuse to quit. I refuse to accept this as normal. I am the voice of my son and for others who can’t speak.”

It’s on all of us to collaborate and work together she adds. There are many ways to advocate for gun violence prevention. “Contact your state legislators. Contact your members of Congress,” she urges. “Attend town hall meetings. Join Moms Demand Action, or another violence prevention group. Share your story with all of them.”

Gun control has become a key issue in the 2018 midterm elections. Even in Republican states like Florida, and in gun strongholds like Texas, candidates in both parties now face more pressure over their gun stances. Politicians seeking office around the country have started to take notice of evolving public opinion after the massacres in Parkland and Santa Fe prompted a wave of gun control activism.

“It takes action to get things done. Speak and act and watch mountains move.”

 

Alia Chebbab

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Featured image courtesy of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

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