Survivor Described the Personal Impact of Gun Violence and County Officials Discussed New York Law Changes and Plead for Additional Changes at Federal Level to Make a Real Difference
On Friday, dozens of people gathered at the New Castle Recreation Field Gazebo in Chappaqua in protest of continued acts of gun violence across the nation.
“Our country needs to do more to prevent gun violence,” said New Castle Town Supervisor Lisa Katz in her welcoming remarks following an opening prayer by Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe of Temple Beth El.
“When it comes to the safety of our children and fellow citizens, the toxic, hyper-partisan politics of the day must be set aside. We must come together in earnest to immediately effectuate change where there is common ground and at the same time create an environment for bridging the gap where more work needs to be done,” said Katz.
The call to action comes on the heels of the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa. As Katz, local and county public officials and members of Moms Demand Demand Action spoke, they looked out at concerned citizens attending wearing orange, the color which has become synonymous with the anti-gun violence cause. According to the Wear Orange website, the movement came about following the shooting of Hadiya Pendleton in 2013, after which her friends wore orange – the color hunters wear in the woods to defend themselves from other hunters – to commemorate her life.
“Gun deaths in our country are occurring at a staggering rate,” said Chief of Police Jim Caroll. “About one hundred Americans are killed every day and hundreds more are injured. The massacre in Uvalde was yet another grim reminder that in the U.S., children are much more likely to die by gun violence than any other cause…We have suffered too much at the hands of people who use guns to commit horrific acts of violence.”
Erin Fuller Brian, a Pleasantville resident and survivor of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, went on to share her story: “My life was forever changed,” she said of experiencing the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
Although she and her husband were fortunate enough to have escaped prior to the shooter opening fire, she described their fear and confusion in the ensuing chaos, and the years of trauma that followed.
Fuller Brian gave birth to two children during the pandemic, and became choked up as she described the ways in which the recent shootings have hit home for her and her family.
”To be perfectly honest, the anxiety I feel just about keeping them safe on a daily basis is sometimes too much to bear. I obsess over their safety constantly and have intrusive thoughts about what could potentially happen to them after experiencing just how fragile life is and how it could be taken away in an instant.”
“And then something like Uvalde happens,” she said. “Nineteen children and two of their teachers were slaughtered, and I am broken. We all are. We send our children to school assuming they will come home safe and alive. These parents and families and students are living in a horrific nightmare. I think about what I went through and how hard it was for me to process when I was 29 years old, but most of the survivors of this shooting are children. They are eight, nine, and ten years old. How are they supposed to move on from this?”
While Fuller Brian expressed her grief, she also shared a message of hope, offering ways for the community to get involved in the fight and prevent more lives being lost to gun violence.
Some of these include fighting for common sense gun safety legislation with organizations such as Brady, Moms Demand, or Giffords, donating to those efforts, voting for politicians who support gun reform, talking to friends and family, calling representatives, and joining the March for our Lives protests on June 11th in Washington, D.C., Manhattan, or one of the tens of other locations.
“Have conversations about this, especially with your friends who are responsible gun owners,” Fuller Brian said. “You’d be surprised how much common ground you’re able to find because the NRA wants us to believe that this is a left vs. right, red vs. blue, gun owner vs. non-gun owner issue, but it’s not. It’s a pro-safety vs. pro-violence issue, and I don’t know a single responsible gun owner who is pro-violence.”
“This should not be a partisan issue. This is common sense,” she said.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer expressed a similar sentiment, stating that: “We have a lot of work to do. We will do our share at the local government level in Westchester County, and we hope that we can put enough pressure on the existing decision-makers or vote and get some new decision-makers.”
Latimer referred to a comment made in a radio interview by Robert F. Kennedy in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death: “No one knows who next will suffer some senseless act of bloodshed,” Kennedy had said.
“I ask myself, what are the next places where this is going to happen?” Latimer told the crowd. “It could happen anywhere. It could happen when I sit at a restaurant in an outdoor setting, in a plaza, any place. If someone has access to a weapon of mass destruction, it depends on that day, if that person decides to shoot up every civilian in sight.”
New York State Senator Peter Harckham shared a legislative update on the steps which New York State is taking to increase gun safety, included in a package of ten more gun safety measures passed on Thursday to be signed into law by the governor.
Included in this package is an increase on the age restriction for purchasing semi-automatic weapons to 21, a ban on the purchase of body armor, such as the kevlar vests which rendered the bullets of the security guard in the Buffalo shooting useless on the armored shooter, microstamping technology to allow for the tracing of bullets, an expansion of red flag laws, a ban on long magazines and auto-feeders, and a proposal for tracking and reporting mechanisms for hate speech on social media to hold those platforms accountable, among others.
“While we continue to work hard in New York State to keep you safe and pass the laws that we’ve all been talking about, we need to get national movement because without national background checks and without some national regulations, the flood of guns is going to continue to come to New York.”
Instrumental music was performed by John Burton. On the way out, orange pinwheels were distributed to the audience to place around the gazebo and along the road to commemorate the lives lost in these tragedies and to ensure that the community’s effort for change is visible to all.