Photo Credit: Jessica Silverman
About 400 people rallied for gun control at the Arch Mar. 24.
On Mar. 14, hundreds of Oconee County students held quiet, respectful vigils to mourn the Parkland shooting victims during a nationwide walkout. Many of those same students became far more vocal on Saturday at a demonstration at Oconee Veterans Park, joining hundreds of thousands of demonstrators at rallies across the U.S. and around the world to protest easy access to the type of assault rifles used in those killings, and legislators’ lack of action to provide some level of gun control.
Local politicians, including state Reps. Jonathan Wallace (D-Watkinsville) and Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens), joined the impassioned students to deliver speeches deeply critical of the National Rifle Association’s lock on Congressional representatives, and the reluctance of legislators to provide any type of regulation of guns. Chalis Montgomery, a Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District seat currently held by Republican gun-control opponent Jody Hice, also spoke at the Oconee rally.
Later in the day, an even noisier group of almost 400 demonstrators gathered at the University of Georgia Arch to listen to speeches and loudly chant slogans such as “never again,” “enough is enough,” and “vote them out!” Many local resistance groups were present, including Indivisible District 10.
Tempers flared as a small group of counter-protesters armed with a bullhorn attempted to overwhelm the protesters. Two Athens-Clarke County police officers remained within a few feet of the counter-protest, presumably to ensure their safety.
A French man who gave his name only as Christian commented on the crowd’s “mild” response to the raucous counter-demonstrators who kept up a steady stream of aggressive remarks during the speeches. “If this was France, those guys wouldn’t have lasted five minutes,” he said.
The Oconee demonstration was attended by hundreds of students and their families. Whit Lill, an 18-year-old senior at North Oconee High who spoke at the demonstration, countered the misperception that the violence in modern video games leads to gun violence, saying that “I play video games every day, and I don’t want to shoot anyone.” He went on to say, “We are planning a voter registration drive in the coming months for all people 17 and half years or older so that we may vote in the November election.”
Richard Winfield, another Democratic congressional candidate, said the demonstration at the Arch was the largest he’s seen in 35 years living in Athens. “It was good to see all the local Democratic candidates who were supporting some kind of sensible gun control—Kelly [Girtz], Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace, [state Senate candidate] Dawn Johnson, Chalis Montgomery,” he said.
Winfield advanced some specific ideas for gun regulation that met with loud approval from the crowd, including requiring liability insurance for gun owners and ammunition purchasers. “We make car owners purchase insurance, and guns are certainly at least as deadly as automobiles,” he said. He also suggested that Congress pass laws forbidding gun ownership for anyone with a history of mental illness or terrorism, a gun buyback program similar to Australia’s and a complete ban on the possession of private guns in public places.
“I hope this demonstration is not just a repeat of all the other demonstrations in the past. There’s a much greater sense of impatience with legislators’ failure to take action,” Winfield said. “Those failures will have considerable consequence for legislators who continue to accept payment from the NRA.”