Against the backdrop of a nationwide school walkout Wednesday morning, members of the Brown community gathered on the Main Green to show solidarity against gun violence and advocate for gun safety regulation. The event commemorated the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. President Christina Paxson P’19, Erin Arcand, a legislative aide to Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, and Nina Gregg, a Rhode Island School of Design student and Marjory Stoneman Douglas alum, addressed the crowd about reducing gun violence in the United States.
In her speech, Paxson emphasized that she was not taking a political stand by speaking at the rally. “As president of this university, this is not about vilifying any side of the debate on guns in this country, it isn’t about rehashing partisan talking points or pushing people towards partisan echo chambers. … This is about the public good. This is about thinking clearly about what kind of civil society we want to be and the fact that we want to be a place where nobody should fear ever being shot and killed.”
The shooting’s occurrence was deeply shocking and irrevocably changed her hometown, Gregg said. “Parkland is a community where little kids learn to ride a bike for the first time, where you ask your kids to go to the neighbor to borrow some flour, where we have farmers markets every weekend, where we thought our classrooms were a safe place to learn, untouched by gun violence. But this is not the case — not anymore,” she added.
“Parklanders everywhere are changed forever. Perhaps the only people who can truly understand are those whose communities have been violated in this way,” she said.
Members of the R.I. congressional delegation were invited to speak at the event, but both the House and the Senate are currently in session. Arcand — representing Reed — read a letter from the Rhode Island senator that spoke about the need for “common-sense solutions” to mitigate gun violence, such as “reinstating the assault weapons ban, expanding federal background checks, preventing domestic abusers from possessing firearms, banning bump stocks, repealing the liability protections of gun manufacturers, preventing the production of firearms that do not trigger metal detectors and funding gun violence research.”
The University walkout was created and coordinated by students at Brown, said Keiko Cooper-Hohn ’21, one of the event organizers. She said she was motivated to help organize the event because “we are students and given that so many shootings, in the last couple (of) decades especially, have taken place on college campuses,” it’s important “that we show our solidarity.”
The gathering allowed community members to “be together and stand up together and talk about (gun violence) together,” she said.
For attendees like Eleni Gkini ’21, the event provided an opportunity to advocate for greater gun control. “It’s really important to inform some kind of law or regulations around (gun violence) because … it’s not the first time and probably not the last time that (shootings) are going to happen,” she said.
“I’m not from the US … To me it’s kind of absurd that people can carry guns around so easily,” she added.
Throughout the event, speakers and organizers repeatedly stressed the importance of continuing the fight against gun violence after the rally’s conclusion. “I hope what you’re doing today is not just today. I hope it extends beyond today. The history of this nation and this university is full of examples of citizens and students who decided that enough is enough and change is necessary,” Paxson said.
“Our next steps are being more aware of these issues … (and) trying to elect politicians that are on the same page of gun reform, that are trying to do things for the students and not for their pockets,” Gregg told The Herald.
In a direct call to action, Gregg closed her speech by highlighting the urgency of the situation. “I can’t stop until we make that change together, the time has come. … I’m from a tiny, quite close-knit community of Parkland, Florida, forever changed, now forever making change. Please make it with me.”