Seven years after it happened, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting prompted conversations about responsible gun ownership nearly 2,840 miles away from Newton, Connecticut.
A vigil Saturday evening remembered lives lost to gun violence on the anniversary of the shooting and included discussion about what can be done to prevent future deaths.
“All adults should keep their guns locked up,” said Joy Lyon, a member of Moms Demand Action-Juneau, which led the vigil. “I think that’s a thing we can all agree on.”
Moms Demand Action is a national organization that sprang up following the Sandy Hook shooting. There are chapters in every state, including Alaska, which has subgroups in both Anchorage and Juneau. The Juneau group led Saturday’s event at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park.
Jan Caulfield, a member of Moms Demand Action, said there are about 150 people on the local organization’s email list and about 50 people attend meetings. About 50 were in attendance at the vigil.
However, not everyone agreed with everything said during the event.
There was some debate after Karla Hart, legislative aide for Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said Tarr’s gun violence protective orders bill, a so-called “red flag” law introduced in February, has been referred to the judiciary and could receive a hearing during the upcoming session.
Red flag laws are sometimes polarizing laws intended to keep firearms away from potentially dangerous people by allowing family members and police to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person who may be a risk to themselves or others.
Caulfield said that is not what the group supports.
Later, when an attendee of the event said she hopes the U.S. gets to a point where active shooter drills aren’t a reality at schools and school shootings don’t happen, the man interjected.
“It’ll never happen,” he said. “If it’s not guns, it’ll be something else.”
He said those in attendance of the event needed a dose of reality.
Caulfield offered to speak to the man after the vigil, and segued the event toward the reading of the names of those killed in the shooting.
The event concluded without more back-and-forth, but the man and event-goers who had opposing views did stick around to talk afterward.
During the vigil, Caulfield cited some statistics she called “truly tragic and heartbreaking” regarding the prevalence of gun violence in Alaska.
In an average year, 165 people die by guns in Alaska, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control. That rate of 21.9 deaths per 100,000 people ranks as the highest rate of gun deaths in the U.S.
“We have a huge problem that needs to be worked on,” Caulfield said.
She said Moms Demand Action is actively working to reduce the number of gun-related deaths in Alaska.
It stands for Secure all guns in your home and vehicles, Model responsible behavior around guns, Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes, Recognize the role of guns in suicide and Tell your peers to be SMART.
“We’re doing a lot in Alaska now,” Caulfield said.