Over 280 attendees and speakers packed into Tischler Lecture Hall for the opening segment of Marching On, a statewide conference on gun violence prevention, which was held at the University on Saturday, Sept. 28.
Organized by Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV), Wesleyan Association of Christian Thinkers (WACT), and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL), the event brought together a mixture of politicians, students, and members of the Connecticut community interested in opportunities for activism related to gun violence and gun control legislation in the state. The keynote speaker, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, was joined by speakers and U.S. Senators from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
“I think that a lot of times at a campus like Wesleyan, there’s a lot [of] interest in trending social action topics, which last February was gun control and gun legislation policy,” said conference co-organizer Claire Wright ’16. “That’s why we thought that Wesleyan would be a good place to host this conference.”
Connor Ryan ’15, a brother of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), the organization responsible for advertising and event set up, also sensed the need to spark dialogue about the issue.
“We’re hoping to raise awareness [and] be able to have students, faculty, [and] non-students in open discussion, and learn about what’s going on, what’s happening, what’s changing,” he said.
The conference featured speakers and leaders, including politicians at the local, state, and national levels, parents of shooting victims, and various members of CAGC and other organizations related to advocacy against gun violence.
“The goal of this conference would be to continue to build a coalition,” Blumenthal said. “We need people to overwhelm the opposition just as the NRA [National Rifle Association] does.”
Mayor of Middletown Dan Drew echoed Blumenthal’s sentiment.
“The gun lobby sells weapons, and they sell ammunition, but their real stock and trade is fear,” Drew said. “Seventy-four percent of the NRA’s corporate contributions come from weapons manufactures. So the NRA, which builds itself as an organization for individuals, is actually a front for all the weapons manufactures in the United States of America, and that is not acceptable because they’re billing themselves as something other than they are. And they’re doing it in spite of the effect that those companies have on human life, and that is morally detestable.”
In his speech, Blumenthal expressed the need for united efforts against gun control.
“We have to make sure that these shootings don’t become the new normal,” he said. “The dysfunction that you see in Washington right now has to be cured, and it’s a dysfunction we can cure by making gun violence [a bipartisan issue]. There’s nothing partisan about saving people from gun violence.”
One main theme across the speeches was how grassroots activism against gun violence can be a means to secure a safer future for youths. The horror of losing a child to gun violence is a reality for speakers Nicole Hockley and Neil Heslin, parents of Dylan Hockley and Jesse Lewis, victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
“[The] worst thing that could happen to a parent is losing a child,” Heslin said. “The worst thing to see is your child in a casket; in Jesse’s case, the worst thing to see is the bullet hole in his head. It’s all of us that [have] to make change in a society. The pro-gun and antigun people need to come together to find a common ground.”
Hockley works with Sandy Hook Promise, an advocacy group focused on open dialogue and parent-to-parent conversations. She expressed the need for Americans to persistently work together against gun violence.
“We cannot turn away from the issue because it’s too sad, or it’s too hard, or it’s too confrontational, or because it’s too political,” Hockley said. “I believe the real change we need will come from our hearts and minds. Legislation follows once the majority of Americans have already agreed to that change.”
Speakers highlighted the urgency and importance of addressing education on gun violence awareness.
“I have kids too,” Murphy said. “I do not want them to grow up in a world where we have just become immune to the fact that every single day, sixteen and seventeen year olds go down in Bridgeport and New Haven simply because kids don’t know how to resolve an argument other than [to] go get a gun.”