Nearly five months after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., and about two months after another school shooting outside of Houston, Tex., a small, but passionate march against gun violence wove through the streets of Philadelphia on Saturday morning to shine a spotlight on the city’s murder rate, and renew calls for state and federal gun-control legislation.
Meanwhile, about 20 protestors gathered outside the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester, Pa. to promote gun rights and to lift up a viewpoint they say has been left out of the conversation about gun violence.
Both protests are part of national movements — the March for our Lives and the March for our Rights — on either side of a bitterly entrenched debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment and how best to keep Americans safe.
In Philadelphia, the student-led gun-control march of about 50 people began at the Art Museum, stopped in front of City Hall, and ended at Independence Mall, steps away from the Liberty Bell. Called “Still Marching Philadelphia,” organizers said the event was meant to keep up the momentum almost four months after thousands of students across the region walked out of their schools.
At each stop, speakers not only decried a string of mass shootings at schools, concerts, and most recently, the offices of a newspaper. They also condemned the gun violence that persistently plagues neighborhoods across the city — especially in communities of color — and urged people to come together to stop it.
“I saw someone get shot in front of my block – right in front of me in the middle of the street. I realized that could have been me, and I don’t want my family to go through that,” said Anissa Wheeler-White, who joined Saturday’s march with several of her high school classmates at Parkway Center City Middle College.
It’s a pain North Philadelphia resident Felicia Pendleton didn’t get to avoid. Two years ago, one of her sons was gunned down in her neighborhood as he walked down the street with his friend.
He was 20 years old and in college.
“Since my son has been gone, I haven’t slept in my room because, for some odd reason, I say, if I go upstairs, I’m going to miss him knocking on the door,’” said Pendleton.
In 2017, the city recorded 308 murders. Roughly halfway through 2018, the city has recorded 160 murders, essentially on par with this time last year. Many of those murders involved gunfire.
Not everyone at Saturday’s march — spearheaded by student activists from the Philadelphia suburbs — had personal stories of gun violence. West Chester native Emily Quillen came out because she’s tired of seeing them on the evening news.
“I’m angry. People don’t see the people behind these issues, they just see the firearms. That’s a piece of metal and these are human beings that we’re dealing with,” said Quillen as the group marched down Market Street.
Protestors called for stricter gun-control laws, including more stringent background checks for people trying to buy firearms.
There were also calls for a higher minimum wage, so the need to make ends meet for families living in poverty doesn’t motivate some of them to turn to crime, like selling drugs. Demonstrators also called on the School District of Philadelphia – and parents – to do a better job of making sure students are in school, not cutting class to be in the streets.
Saturday’s march coincided with a string of pro-gun rallies in 10 cities across the country, including the one in West Chester organized by a group called Triggered Millennials.
We out here pic.twitter.com/uiZIO1hy1F
— Triggered Millennials (@TriggeredWakeUp) July 7, 2018
“This is not partisan,” organizers said on the event’s Facebook page. “This is Human Rights rally, because self-defense is everyone’s, from every spectrum, a natural right. Class, party, and orientation are not factors here.”
One of the speakers was Maj Toure, a Philadelphia activist and the founder of Black Guns Matter. The organization focuses on curbing gun violence by educating gun owners.
In a video of the rally posted to Twitter, Toure, who is black, urges the small, mostly white crowd gathered at the steps of the Chester County Courthouse to make the pro-gun movement more inclusive.
— Black Guns Matter (@blkgunsmattr) July 7, 2018
“This is not just a one day event,” he said. “This is not just a weekly event. You have a very simple list of marching orders: outreach to people that do not look like you because you’d be surprised how many commonalities we have.
“Two, find liaisons that can translate what’s in your head to a culture you may not be understanding of — right now,” he added.
Toure said also urged attendees to push to overturn the National Firearms Act, which passed in 1934 and required gun owners to register their weapons.
“Whether you knew it or not, now you’re a part of Fight Club,” he said.