Five years ago next Thursday, many Americans woke up to the unthinkable news that a gunman had shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, 20 of them children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old.
A small group of Tuolumne County residents came together Wednesday on a cold December night at Courthouse Square in Sonora to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of the Sandy Hook victims, as well as the more than 150,000 Americans who have died in fatal shootings since that horrific massacre.
“We forget who the victims of gun violence are and need to be reminded sometimes,” said Mary Anne Schmidt, of Tuolumne.
Schmidt put the event together as a member of Organizing For Action Mother Lode, the local chapter of a national group that was born out of former President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008.
The group is encouraging its 250 local chapters across the country to organize such vigils as a call to action on the issue of gun violence that’s plaguing the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year on average, which includes homicides, suicides and accidental discharges.
Studies have found that nearly a third of all public mass shootings in which four or more people are injured or killed occur in the U.S., which represents roughly five percent of the world’s population.
The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun-related deaths and injuries across the U.S. each year, found there have been 327 mass shootings since Jan. 1.
Five of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history have occurred in the past 10 years. The deadliest mass shooting occurred in October when a 64-year-old man gunned down 58 music festival attendees from his suite at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.
“If that were all to happen at one time, wouldn’t there be an uproar?” Schmidt asked.
Schmidt and others who participated in the vigil said their goal isn’t to take away guns from law-abiding citizens. Rather, they would like to see lawmakers tighten restrictions on assault rifles and enact regulations to prevent guns from getting into the hands of those are mentally unstable.
They said one the most significant barriers holding back progress on the issue of gun violence in the U.S. is powerful political-lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association whose job is to protect the interests of gunmakers.
“We have a powerful and wealthy gun lobby in this country who can afford to sway votes and reward people for voting the way they want them to,” said Erin Ross, of Jamestown.
“How do you make your business grow if you’re a gunmaker? Sell more weapons,” added Ross’ husband, Jakob Jaggy.
Jaggy said he also believes economics also plays a large role in the reason that the U.S. has more gun-related deaths per year than most other developed nations in the world.
“I’m from Switzerland and we don’t have the same kinds of problems,” he said of his homeland. “Part of the reason for that is we don’t have as much social injustice and economic injustice.”
Carol Doud, of Sonora, pointed out that suicide prevention is also key to reducing the prevalence of gun violence.
A report released in September by the Brady Center to Prevent Violence culled through data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in 2015 were suicides.
Two people were found dead from gunshot wounds in an apparent murder-suicide at their Sonora home this week, according to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
The deaths add to a spate of gun violence across the Mother Lode in recent months.
David Bilderback, 47, of Avery, is awaiting trial scheduled to begin early next year on suspicion of shooting and killing his 19-year-old son, Cole Bilderback, who died of a fatal gunshot wound to the chest.
A total of 12 firearms were discovered in David Bilderback’s business and truck following his arrest.
Elton Redick, 42, of Big Oak Flat, was recently ordered by a Tuolumne County Superior Court judge to stand trial on charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the fatal shooting of his neighbor, Marc John DeJong, 48, in a shed on their Black Road property on Sept. 25.
Those at the vigil Wednesday night stood facing Washington Street holding candles and signs with messages like, “Hugs not slugs,” “Only you can prevent gun violence,” and “Remember all the victims of gun violence.”
When first asked what motivated her to brave the chilly weather and attend the vigil, Ross simply pointed up at her sign that read, “Enough is enough.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.