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San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego County residents 'turn outrage into action,' call for end to gun violence

By Lauren J. Mapp,


People across San Diego County donned orange shirts Saturday to recognize Wear Orange Weekend and National Gun Violence Awareness Day while advocating for policy changes, trauma support for survivors and better gun-violence prevention.

A morning event in Cardiff led by Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action attracted more than 150 kids, teenagers and parents who listened to speeches from state Sen. Catherine Blakespear, Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz and student activists from The Bishop's School.

In the afternoon, the Charity Apostolic Church in National City held a conference in recognition of the trauma experienced by both gun violence survivors and perpetrators. The program included musical performances, poetry readings and conversations led by Bishop Cornelius Bowser Sr.

The Wear Orange movement began on June 2, 2015, on what would have been the 18th birthday of Hadiya Pendleton, a girl who was shot and killed in 2013 on a playground in Chicago.

"Soon after that tragedy, Hadiya's friends commemorated her life by wearing orange, the color that hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves," said Robert Wood during the Charity Apostolic Church conference.

Wear Orange Weekend, which includes National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 2, has since spread across the nation as more communities experience the effects of gun violence and mass shootings.

The Gun Violence Archive , a nonprofit that tracks gun-related deaths and injuries, reports that since the beginning of the year there have been 17,978 deaths from firearms across the country. The organization reports that there have been 765 deaths and 1,935 firearm injuries among teenagers and children age 17 and under.

In 2020, firearms surpassed motor vehicles as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers age 19 and under.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office reports that from 2011 to 2021, there were 2,302 firearm-related deaths in San Diego County. Of those deaths, nearly three-quarters were by suicide and just over a quarter were homicides. A small fraction — 0.35 percent — were deemed accidents or undetermined causes.

The San Diego Police Department reports that in 2021 and 2022, there were a total 456 non-fatal shootings throughout the city.

People attending the pair of events called for changes to state and federal gun policy by regulating the ownership, possession, storage and use of firearms to minimize gun-related violence, protect vulnerable populations and prevent unauthorized access to weapons.

Since starting a chapter of Students Demand Action at The Bishop's School in La Jolla earlier this year, rising seniors Bella Gallus, 16, and Lily Gover, 17, said they've increased awareness about issues related to gun safety among their peers. What they said they need, however, is more support from adults who can vote for representatives and senators pushing for legislative changes.

"A lot of it has to do with the gun lobby and the NRA because their access to money is so large and it goes so deep into the connections in the political world," Gallus said.

Students at the Cardiff event said they often worry about becoming the victim of gun violence while attending classes, a fear Gover said never crossed her mind before moving to the United States from England at 9.

"Gun violence is not an issue there, it's really only a problem in the United States," Gover said. "It's just incredibly frustrating for me because I know that it can be prevented. Every other country does it, but for some reason in this country, many of the leaders choose that guns are more important than people."

Speakers at the Charity Apostolic Church focused their conversations on better supporting the community to help heal trauma related to gun violence.

Curtis Howard — an author who writes about his past experiences as a gang member — shared about his difficult transition from life in prison, which included long stints in solitary confinement. While he still feels anxiety seeing a car without its headlights on at night, or one with three or four people in it, he said taking mental health classes helped him better recognize those triggers.

"If you can't identify them, they will always impact you and effect you," Howard said. "That's why it's easier for me to talk about this now... It's not that I'm this tough guy and that nothing affects me, I'm just hardcore. Oh no, that's not true."

On Friday, President Joe Biden released a statement on National Gun Violence Awareness Day in honor of victims, calling for lawmakers to enact policy reforms such as universal background checks, safe firearms storage, and bans on AR-15-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .

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