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Community Comes Together For Tenth Annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day



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Editor's Note: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect assertion by one of the speakers at the request of a local family.

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Dozens of people from Newtown residents to Connecticut survivors rallied together and called for an end to gun violence in front of Edmond Town Hall on Friday, June 7, which marked the tenth annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The rally was the combined effort of Jr Newtown Action Alliance, Teachers Unify To End Gun Violence, Mothers United Against Violence, Moms Demand Action, CT Against Gun Violence, and Sandy Hook Promise, and was far from the first event that these groups have organized to speak out against gun violence.

Jr NAA Co-Chair Molly Zatlukal said that they have rallied and marched for the past decade to remind Americans that if gun violence can impact Newtown, then it can impact all communities in the nation.

Zatlukal shared with the audience that she wrote her college essay on the word fearless. She said that, as a young advocate, fearless is a word that is often attributed to her and her friends’ work by parents, peers, and legislatures alike.

However, Zatlukal added that she sees that characterization as ironic and feels as though she is anything but fearless.

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy twelve years ago, Zatlukal said that over 1 million Americans have been shot, over 450,000 Americans have been killed, there have been over 5,000 mass shooting incidents where four or more people were shot, there are now over 100 million more civilian guns, and that 25% of all guns being made are AR-15s.

“The truth is that no one in this movement is fearless. Fear is our drive,” Zatlukal said. “The big takeaway from my college essay was how the concept of fearlessness, being devoid of fear, is illusionary. True courage is how we act despite our fear.”

She continued by saying that everyone always has a choice: “in this case, evading the topic of gun violence at all costs, or confronting it head on.”

“I encourage everyone to choose the second one,” Zatlukal said.

She then introduced two of the students that will lead Jr NAA next year, Jr NAA board members Saige Koellmer and Cali Taylor.

Both Koellmer and Taylor talked about their personal experiences with the tragedy and the impact that it has had on their lives.

Koellmer, then an afternoon kindergarten student at Sandy Hook, spoke on the difficulty of living life knowing that after what happened that school shootings never stopped.

Taylor, whose mother was a Sandy Hook teacher in the building the day of the tragedy, spoke on how everyone together has the power to advocate for safety and make real change by taking action.

“While lockdown drills and school not being a place of safety is all my generation has ever known, this is not the way it should be,” Taylor said. “We have the power to change this for our future generations, and should pour our energy into making not only schools, but also our communities safe spaces free from gun violence.”

Newtown Selectman Michelle Ku spoke next and read the National Gun Awareness Day Proclamation on behalf of First Selectman Jeff Capeci, who was not in attendance. The proclamation labels gun violence as a major public health problem in the United States.

By wearing orange on June 7 to honor those whose lives are cut short and the countless survivors injured by shootings, the proclamation says that “we renew our commitment to reduce gun violence, pledge to do all that we can to keep firearms out of dangerous hands, and encourage responsible gun ownership.”

Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Sandy Hook Promise Nicole Hockley said that while life has never been the same since the tragedy, that people show up in different ways to make change. Hockley continued by saying that while fear is a useful driving force, that she personally chooses hope as her driving force.

“I remain hopeful because we know what works. I remain hopeful because this movement continues to grow. And I remain hopeful because of these kids,” Hockley said. “This is the generation that has grown up knowing nothing but school shootings. This is the generation that will not let that be the future for their children.”

She finished by saying that until the epidemic of gun violence ends that they will continue to be here and raise their voices “because everyone deserves to feel safe.”

True Blue National President Pastor Sam Saylor spoke on his experiences not only as a gun violence survivor himself, but also as someone who has lost loved ones to gun violence.

He said that he was reaching out as “cousin from a different area of the state that lives a totally different life,” pleading for everyone to take their commitment to ending gun violence and expand that to their cousins in urban areas of the state.

“We have one common story about wanting to end gun violence,” Saylor said. “Everybody’s here because you have an inner desire and will to make a change. And I’m asking you, I’m begging you, to find the duty to that will; to find the effort and work to make it happen.”

Other speakers include Executive Director of Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence Abbey Clements, Jr NAA board members and SHS shooting survivors Emma Ehrens and Grace Fischer, Mothers United Against Violence representative Deb Davis, Moms Demand Action representative Cindy Carson, CT Against Gun Violence representative Houn Abdulrazack, Chief of Staff to the Connecticut State Comptroller and Candidate for State Senate in Connecticut’s 28th District Rob Blanchard, and Newtown Action Alliance Chairwoman Po Murray.


Reporter Jenna Visca can be reached at jenna@thebee.com.

Newtown residents, Connecticut survivors, and advocates attended a rally outside Edmond Town Hall calling for an end to gun violence on Friday, June 7, which also marked the tenth annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. —Bee Photo, Glass
Dozens of community members showed up to the rally, intently listening to every speaker that went up to the podium. —Bee Photo, Glass
Newtown Action Alliance members wore green to honor the Sandy Hook graduates instead of orange as they typically do. —Bee Photo, Glass
After the rally, several members from the Jr Newtown Action Alliance alongside event attendees marched down Main Street to Newtown Middle School despite the impending rain. —Bee Photo, Visca
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