Gun violence prevention advocate urges movement on background checks
Event is part of AU College Democrats’ “Gun Violence Prevention Month”
A representative from former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords’ gun violence prevention organization spoke to AU College Democrats during an event on Sept. 17 and encouraged students to call on legislators to support expanding background checks for gun purchasers.
Tess Saperstein, an organizing associate at Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, which proposes policies to combat the issue, said a recent turning point energized gun violence prevention efforts.
“There was something that really shifted after the Parkland shooting,” Saperstein said of the 2018 incident that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “The reason that shifted for me personally is because that’s where I’m from.”
The Giffords event was part of a series of gun violence prevention programs that AU College Democrats is running through September, according to Julie Appelstein, the chapter’s director of communications. They’ve also called members of Congress and will be hosting a roundtable discussion on the issue on Sept. 30.
Giffords, who served as a U.S. representative from Arizona, was shot in the head in 2011 while meeting with constituents outside of a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. In 2012, she and her husband, Mark Kelly – who’s now running for Senate in Arizona – founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to combat gun violence, according to the Giffords website. The organization later joined with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to become Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence.
At the start of the event, Saperstein, who’s from Boca Raton, Florida, emphasized that gun violence prevention means addressing suicides and shootings in cities, in addition to mass shootings.
Suicides made up 60 percent of U.S. gun deaths in 2017, while murders made up 37 percent, according to Pew Research Center.
In addition to background checks, Saperstein said the organization supports red flag laws, which she referred to as “extreme risk laws,” in an attempt to detach the legislation from stigmatizing mentally ill people. These laws allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are considered by a judge to be a harm to themselves or others.
AU College Democrats watched the issue of gun violence take center stage at the third 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate on Sept. 12, Appelstein said.
“Some issues do fall to the wayside during the debates because there’s just so many issues, so we’re glad that it was brought up,” Appelstein said.
While the group isn’t supporting a particular candidate during the primaries, they want to see universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and “some form” of assault weapons buyback program take effect, she said.
Freshman Dahlia Linowes didn’t know about the 2011 Tucson shooting before her friend told her about Giffords’ story, she said before Saperstein started her remarks.
Linowes recounted the “horrible night” after the 2018 shooting in Parkland, when she was a high school junior studying in Israel for a semester with a couple students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Linowes, who’s from Germantown, Maryland, which is near D.C., said it’s important for gun violence prevention to remain prominent in political discourse.
“When you live here, it kind of gets a little overshadowed,” she said.