In commemoration of the one year anniversary of the national March for Our Lives demonstration, 60 plus people took to Love Park midday on March 24.
The number paled in comparison to the 10,000 or so marchers Philadelphia hosted at the sister march last year to honor the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to call for gun reform.
But the students who showed up did not seem deterred by the fleeting numbers, but rather ever-vigilant to continue the fight for legislative change.
“I think it’s hard to sustain your marches and protests and walkouts,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA. But if people are still making the calls to legislators, writing to legislators, going to Harrisburg and Washington to have an impact, I think that’s what the lasting effect is.”
A speaker at the rally, Goodman reminded the youth that they will be able to vote soon and assume leadership roles that will hopefully fast track change.
“Grown ups are waking up and realizing we have a role to play, until these guys take over and that we can’t keep disappointing them,” added Goodman.
Reflecting over the past year, Ethan Block, 17, Hopewell Valley Central High School said anti-gun violence advocates are “still far from finished.”
“For the time that we’ve had, we’ve achieved a lot. I think awareness has certainly increased,” said Block, programming and events organizer for March for Our Lives of Philadelphia. “There’s still a lot to do. People are still dying all over the world, not just in the United States. I think it’s our duty to stop that.”
Many of the speakers were quick to note that it took New Zealand only six days to plan gun reform that would ban all assault weapons after a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in its city of Christchurch. In contrast, it took over a year for the United States federal government to enact a ban of bump stocks, weapon accessories that increases rate of fire and was used in the Las Vegas music festival shooting that took 58 lives in 2017.
There does seem to be promise for gun reform on the federal level after the Democrat-controlled House passed two bills in late February. If passed by Republican-controlled Senate, the bills would extend government background checks from 3 days to 10 days for someone to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer as well as an expansion of checks to include purchases made at gun shows, online or in other private settings.
The rally at Love Park also made a note to focus on gun laws within Pennsylvania. Back in November, Gov. Tom Wolf passed the first anti-gun violence state law in over a decade, requiring people convicted of domestic violence or subject to protective orders to relinquish their guns within 24 hours to police, a gun dealer or lawyer. The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is currently looking at a bill that would permit family members and law enforcement to remove a gun from someone who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
At a local level, the City of Philadelphia released a five-year plan at the beginning of this year to address the decade high homicide rate.
Anissa Wheeler-White, 16, Parkway Center City Middle College said she joined March for Our Lives of Philadelphia as its director of community relations, because the ever-present gun violence at her school.
“I joined [March for Our Lives], because I’ve seen a lot of people around me get affected by gun violence, not specifically me but other people around me get affected by gun violence,” said Wheeler-White. “It’s hard being a bystander, watching everyone kind of like crash and burn. I know some people will sit there and watch that, but I’m not the kind of person who just watches everything flash before my eyes.”