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‘It had to be me’: San Diegans march to end gun violence after recent mass shootings

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in downtown San Diego to demand stricter gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in downtown San Diego on Saturday to demand stricter gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Students helped organize rallies to demand Congress ban assault rifles, expand background checks and pass other new gun laws

When the Columbine shooting happened more than two decades ago, Patricia Maisch thought: Someone should do something.

After the Virginia Tech massacre years later, Maisch wondered: Why isn’t anyone doing anything?

Then in 2011, Maisch found herself standing near Gabby Giffords when a gunman shot the Congressmember and multiple others in Tuscon. Six died, including a 9-year-old girl.

“It had to be me,” Maisch, 73, told hundreds of people in front of the County Administration Center on Saturday. June 11. Looking out at teachers, students, survivors of gun violence and victims’ relatives, she said, “You are my heroes.”

Scores of people rallied this weekend at three events around the county to demand Congress ban assault rifles, expand background checks and pass other new gun laws in the wake of recent mass shootings in New York, Texas and Southern California.

The rallies were timed to coincide with others throughout the nation, and several people interviewed said recent bloodshed pushed them to attend or help organize protests for the first time.

“All of you should not have to spend your Saturday morning telling Congress to do its job,” Democratic Rep. Scott Peters, who is running for reelection in the 50th district, told the downtown crowd. “Today, as hard as it seems, I ask you not to lose hope.”

Rep. Scott Peters was among the hundreds of demonstrators who took part in Saturday's rally.
Rep. Scott Peters was among the hundreds of demonstrators who marched from the San Diego County Administration building toward downtown on Saturday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In North County, high school students helped oversee a march in Encinitas.

Kara Chine, a co-organizer and teacher at the nearby Grauer School, estimated that more than 100 people showed up to Moonlight Beach. (See photos from the Encinitas march at: https://www.encinitasadvocate.com/lifestyle/photo-galleries/story/2022-06-14/grauer-school-students-hold-march-on-moonlight )

In City Heights, dozens honored victims at Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park, according to Ron Marcus, president of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention. The local nonprofit helped organize Saturday’s events with a host of groups that advocate for more gun laws, including March for Our Lives and Team Enough, as well as the ministry Shaphat Outreach.

The downtown rally drew a range of ages, from toddlers in strollers to at least one retired teacher in a wheelchair. San Diego police blocked traffic as two blocks swelled with marchers, who cheered whenever cars honked.

At Waterfront Park, a group of middle school girls were struck by the sheer number of people at their first gun violence prevention march.

All spoke fluently about the active shooter training they’d received at Francis Parker School. Few could have been much taller than 5 feet, but they said they knew to “grab a limb” if they ever had to fight an armed man.

Their school’s sprawling campus, gates and security guards did make them feel safe, they said.

“We’re empathetic to the other schools that don’t have what we have,” said Scarlett Cline, a seventh grader.

The demonstrators marched from the San Diego County Administration building towards downtown.
The demonstrators marched from the San Diego County Administration building towards downtown. The protest was timed to coincide with similar rallies across the nation.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

California has the strictest firearm laws in the nation, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Proponents of more oversight draw a straight line from state law to the fact that California has one of the lowest firearm death rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

While thousands were gunned down in 2020, that amounted to fewer than nine deaths per 100,000 residents, data shows.

Only six states had lower rates.

While no counter-protestors appeared to be downtown, gun rights supporters often point to the shootings that happen despite strict laws as evidence that more regulation is not the answer.

Seventy-seven homicides and nearly 150 suicides in San Diego County involved firearms in 2020, according to the most recent annual report from the medical examiner’s office.

Said another way, guns were part of almost 60 percent of all homicides, making it the leading method of death for that category, the report said. Similar shares were reported partway through last year.

Local gun-rights advocates have asserted their Second Amendment right to self-protection in several recent federal lawsuits challenging California’s gun restrictions — and judges have in many cases have backed them up by striking down certain laws as unconstitutional. The legal battle over the state’s matrix of rules continues to unfold at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — and a key opinion pending at the U.S. Supreme Court could rewrite how such cases are decided nationwide.

Some teachers downtown said, in addition to new gun laws, they wanted school districts to invest more heavily in mental health care.

“We’ve been saying that for years,” said Dana Quinn, a third-grade educator at Ocean Beach Elementary.

Around them, handmade signs — “No more thoughts and prayers,” “Am I next?” — wobbled in the breeze. Between two buildings on Third Street, chants of “Gun control now” bounced off stone and concrete to create a tunnel of sound.

In the crowd was Tom Teves, whose son Alex was murdered a decade ago in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting.

Although he has often spoken publicly about the experience, Teves on Saturday, June 11, simply wore a button with Alex’s face to signify what his family had gone through. The grief remained raw.

“It doesn’t go away. It never goes away,” he said in an interview with his wife. “You can’t fix us.”

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday, June 8, to raise the age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles and ban magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition.

The bill has little chance of passing the Senate. Lawmakers continue to debate a possible compromise.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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