Lawmakers, clergy call for gun restrictions at vigil near Capitol

By: - August 15, 2019 8:10 am

A small crowd gathered for a vigil held at Liberty Plaza on Aug.14, 2019, in honor of those who died of gun violence in Georgia last year. Photo by Jill Nolin

It took about 30 minutes to read aloud the more than 600 names of the people who died of gun violence in Georgia last year.

Dozens of people stood in the blazing Georgia sun Wednesday at Liberty Plaza across from the state Capitol to memorialize these victims of gun violence and to issue a call for action in Washington and under the Gold Dome.

“As we remember, let us have courage to act,” said Jasmine Smothers, senior pastor at Atlanta First United Methodist Church, who said a man was gunned down on her church’s steps last June.

“Please go back to our statehouse and to our Congress and tell them that even in our churches we cannot keep our people safe,” Smothers said, addressing the elected officials present.

Congresswoman Lucy McBath was there, although she told the crowd that she was there as a mother. McBath, a first-term Democrat representing the northern Atlanta suburbs, lost her son to gun violence in 2012 and campaigned on tightening the country’s gun laws.

“We must continue to fight to keep our families safe,” McBath said to the crowd.

State representatives Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat who sponsored bills in the past that would ban assault-style weapons, and Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat, also participated.

The vigil was held less than two weeks after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead and dozens injured.

Organizers said the event was already in the works when those tragedies unfolded, but Rev. Ed Bacon, interim rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, said the group added the victims’ names to their long list to show solidarity with their families.

Rev. Ed Bacon of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

 “All of us feel passionately about doing whatever we can do to interrupt the plague of gun violence and what looks like an addiction to guns in the United States,” Bacon said in an interview.

Many of those present appeared to be connected to the faith community, but members of gun control advocacy groups, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, were also there.

“These are not just statistics,” Louisa Basarrate, who is the leader for Moms Demand Action’s Buckhead/Midtown group. “These are people who have friends, family, loved ones and communities that are rocked, saddened, traumatized and forever changed when one person is killed by gun violence.”

Basarrate said she has been encouraged by what she sees as a national dialogue and state-level action elsewhere on gun measures, including so-called “red flag” laws that President Donald Trump recently said he favors.

Such a law, which would empower the courts to confiscate firearms from someone who is deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others, has attracted new attention nationally in the wake of the shootings and Trump’s comments.

But any proposed gun restriction here would face tough odds in a state with lawmakers more bent on expanding gun laws in recent years while focusing on strengthening school security.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, hasn’t weighed in specifically on the issue of red flag laws, neither here or on the federal level. A red-flag bill was introduced in the House this year.

“I have a clear record of protecting the rights of law-abiding Georgians under the Second Amendment and that will not change,” Ralston said in a recent statement. “Under my leadership, the Georgia House of Representatives has thoughtfully engaged on legislation dealing with mental health reform and hate crimes — topics which must be central to any discussion about preventing similar tragedies.”

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.