DOWNTOWN – Concerned people with various experiences with gun violence came together Saturday under the Gateway Arch to rally against mass shootings, whether in white suburbia or in urban black neighborhoods.
The rally was organized by the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action, a vocal gun control advocacy group. Volunteers gathered on both sides of the river. Some on the St. Louis side walked across the Eads Bridges to join the rally there.
They were responding to the recent mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. They also wanted to bring awareness to the lives lost in the St. Louis region.
About 400 people gathered on the St. Louis riverfront steps. Some cried. Many hoisted signs. Others yelled. All showed their support for the fight against gun violence.
Portraits of people killed by gun violence this year lay on the ground. “Faces not forgotten,” the collage read. There was a moment of silence.
Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, is pushing for more rigid gun laws and rallying behind the “red flag” legislation. The bill, HR 8, would allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals whom a judge believes to be a danger to themselves or others.
“Change our gun laws or we will change Congress. … We’ve had enough, and we demand action,” said Linda Steward, deputy chapter leader of MDA-Missouri.
Steward said that not only was she tired of all the killings – in white areas or black, against faith groups or LGTBQ people, fueled by hate – but that she represented a wide range of mothers.
“I love being chapter leader because I break the myth that we are only suburban soccer moms: I am a grandma from southeast Missouri,” she noted.
The group also applauded new gun violence abatement legislation introduced by Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo. (1st District). The bill, HR 3435, would allow local governments to come up with their own gun laws.
Clay’s spokesperson, Steven Engelhardt, took the stage in the congressman’s absence. Clay was dropping his son off at college, an experience that many people in American have been robbed of because of gun violence.
“For the first time at the federal level, [the bill] would give cities the freedom to enact their own gun laws, regardless of what the state legislature has to say. It’s about time,” Engelhardt told the crowd, drawing applause.
Clay will be part of a citywide town hall meeting on gun violence here at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Harris-Stowe State University, 3026 Laclede Ave. in Midtown. It’s being presented by the St. Louis African American Aldermanic Caucus.
The bill would allow for legislation to be tailored to specific type of gun violence, instead of a cookie-cutter approach.
“What fits the city of St. Louis may not fit the town (Moberly, Mo.) that I graduated from high school in,” said Mayor Lyda Krewson.
Legislation that she would sign off on would be one that gives law enforcement “the ability to figure out who has guns.”
Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed – who has long advocated for Cure Violence, a program that he has said takes a more sensible, holistic approach against gun violence – said he could bet on the heavily supported MDA.
“History is made by the movement of the masses,” he said, pointing out that MDA has more than 5 million supporters.
“That’s what’s going to change this nation, so let’s not accept anything except for what’s right,” he urged. “Let’s ask for common-sense gun laws, safer cities and safer neighborhoods. Let’s ask for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
James Clark, senior VP of community outreach for Better Family Life, echoed Reed.
“I’m energized for tomorrow’s work by being here today, knowing that hundreds of people who feel the same way that I do, who are just as passionate as I am and willing to give their very life to make America the country that it should be,” he said. Clark stood with three black boys.
The rally also included a performance by St. Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective. They document St. Louis through art and word to promote understanding, civic pride, intergenerational relationships and literacy.
They performed original rap songs promoting black identity, empathy, pride and peace.
One of the rappers flowed: “Looking at my city, I see it’s in trouble/instead of facing each other, they all facing mothers/People dropping left and right/we seeing families trouble/we gotta help each other/’cause we’re all part of the struggle.”