On Saturday afternoon, about 150 people were gathered on the southeast lawn of the Monroe County courthouse in downtown Bloomington. They stood in silence for 21 seconds.
The silence commemorated the lives of 21 children and teachers who were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, two weeks earlier.
The reflective moment was part of a demonstration and march that was organized by Bloomington North High School students Ingrid Pendergast and Alexandra Shirley, under the banner of the national movement called March for Our Lives. The non-profit organization advocates for stronger gun laws.
Demonstrators on Saturday marched from the southeast corner of the courthouse square, eastward down Kirkwood Avenue to Indiana Avenue, headed one block north to 6th Street, turned west, and headed back to the courthouse along 6th Street.
After demonstrators had again gathered on the courthouse lawn, Pendergast and Shirley gave remarks and invited several people to address the crowd. Then they turned the mic over to anyone who wanted to speak.
Pendergast told the crowd, “We can no longer allow gun violence to be a partisan issue. It is killing us. It is not about Republican versus Democrat.” She added, “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.”
It was not the first time Pendergast has appeared at the courthouse to protest against gun violence and to ask for stronger gun laws. In 2018, she organized a die-in on the courthouse steps in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting when a gunman shot and killed 17 people at a high school there.
On Saturday Pendergast recalled that occasion: “I was out here in 2018, as a sixth grader, with my little brother, a second grader at the time, asking that legislators protect my friends and I.”
In her remarks, Shirley also recalled the Parkland shooting: “Four years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the lives taken at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.”
Shirley added, “It was my first understanding of the possibility of someone walking through my school doors and killing me. And as a 13-year old, I should not have had to start worrying about that.”
Current candidates for public office who were invited to speak included Jennifer Crossley, who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for county council District 4. Crossley is not opposed in the general election.
Crossley talked about the impact of gun violence on her own life. In seventh grade, a classmate of hers was shot and killed. During her junior year at Indiana University, her brother was shot and killed in Chicago. Crossley asked, “What else do we have to do? How many more thoughts and prayers are useless into the universe, before something is going to start happening?”
Crossley said she does believe thoughts and prayers can have an impact, when they also include doing something. “As a person of faith, I believe that thoughts and prayers can do something—with action.” The action Crossley called for was volunteering on the campaigns for candidates who support stronger gun laws.
Also invited to take a turn at the mic was Peter Iversen, who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for county council District 1. Iversen faces Republican Party nominee James Allen in the Nov. 8 general election.
Iversen ticked through some statistics from the everytownresearch.org website: Indiana has the 16th-highest level of gun homicides in the country—a rate that increased 57 percent over the past decade. That is double the 26-percent increase nationwide. Indiana also lacks a number of foundational gun laws that should be in place, Iversen said.
Democratic Party nominee Penny Githens for the District 62 state house of representatives seat told the crowd “When I sent my kids to school, they were taught to stop, drop and roll—to put out a fire. Now, they’re taught to stop, drop and roll and play dead—so that they won’t be the next victim of somebody who walks into their school with a gun.” Githens said the state house is filled with representatives who will not fund schools, but will fund additional school resource officers.
Githens faces Republican Party nominee Dave Hall in the fall.
The Democratic Party’s 9th District congressional nominee, Matt Fyfe, told the crowd that the same kind of regulations that restrict sales of automatic weapons should be extended to semi-automatic firearms.
Fyfe said that laws should make sure that “other firearms that are dangerous for our community are kept out of the hands of individuals that are violent.” He added: “It’s as simple as that. That’s right. That’s not ridiculous. That is common sense.”
Fyfe is a teacher at Bloomington North High School. Fyfe faces Republican Party nominee Erin Houchin in the fall election.
Fyfe also appeared earlier in the week at a forum on gun laws held at the Monroe County Public Library.
Support for stronger gun legislation among audience members at that forum was strong but not universal. Attending the forum was Trent Feuerbach, who has previously run for office as a Republican, but most recently ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination for state senate District 40, a race won by Shelli Yoder.
Feuerbach told Fyfe when he was 20 years old he’d been the victim of armed robbery and carjacking in Bloomington. That’s why he has handgun licenses in Texas and Indiana, Feuerbach told Fyfe.
Feuerbach wanted to know why there was support for restricting people like him—a victim of gun violence—from carrying guns in places like schools. Feuerbach’s point: Someone who is licensed to carry a gun, who is already in a school, could respond more quickly to a school shooter than the police could.
When police arrive at a school shooting, Feuerbach said, it’s “too little, too late.” Feuerbach said he’s not allowed to carry a gun in local schools, or the one in Texas where his daughter teaches first grade.
Fyfe led off his answer to Feuerbach by saying he wanted to protect the Second Amendment rights of people like Feuerbach. Fyfe said he does not want to take guns away from responsible gun owners like Feuerbach.
Instead, Fyfe said he wants to make sure guns are kept out of the hands of “irresponsible individuals.” Fyfe said some approaches to preventing such people from obtaining guns include waiting periods, closing loopholes, background checks, and potentially raising age limits.
Fyfe said he does not see opening up “gun free” zones, so that people can lawfully carry guns into schools or into churches, as a good approach.
On Saturday, many of the speakers advocated a strategy that focuses on outvoting those who oppose stronger gun laws. They stressed the importance of voting for candidates who support stronger gun legislation.
After the event, The B Square asked Fyfe about the idea that a successful effort to change gun law would require persuading at least some gun owners like Feuerbach—in addition to encouraging like-minded people to show up to the polls.
Fyfe said the conversation has to start with common ground. The common ground he shares with Feuerbach, Fyfe said, is that they both care about the safety of Feuerbach’s daughter in her Texas elementary school. It’s good that Feuerbach attended the forum at the public library, Fyfe said, so that his voice can be a part of the conversation.
Photos: March for Our Lives, Bloomington, Indiana (June 11, 2022)
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