Gun violence, both here in the Chippewa Valley and across the nation, needs to come to an end, says Noah Reif, an area organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
A vigil to end gun violence was held Wednesday night at Phoenix Park. Reif said key issues were being addressed.
“We need to take action and take solidarity that gun violence needs to be addressed in the community,” Reif said. “These (shooting) actions are not isolated. It seems like every week, every day, we are hearing about this epidemic of gun violence.”
Reif is troubled that students now participate in active shooting drills in schools.
“This is extremely traumatizing and has an effect on mental health,” he said. “People are afraid to be in our community, to be at places of worship, or at work.”
Among the speakers Wednesday were Sou Vang — a relative of Laile Vang, who was shot and killed July 28 in Lake Hallie — and Carolyn Miller, an area nurse who was sharing her experience of domestic and gun violence.
The goal was to gather people who are victims and support survivors, and look at ideas for taking action to address gun violence.
Eau Claire school board President Eric Torres said it was important for the district to be involved in the discussion on ending gun violence.
“In our role as public educators, it’s important to create and maintain a safe learning environment,” Torres said.
State Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, agreed that the vigil needs to point out these acts of violence aren’t isolated incidents in cities like Dayton, Ohio, or El Paso, Texas.
“It’s a moment to pause and realize this isn’t just happening across the country, it’s happening in our backyard,” Emerson said.
Not only was there the shootings in Lake Hallie and Lafayette the weekend of July 26-28 that left four dead, plus the shooter, there also was a reported planned shooting at the Menards distribution center, Emerson noted.
The vigil isn’t just about mass shootings, either.
“This is a big suicide prevention thing as well,” she said.
Emerson said she is continuing to push measures in the Legislature, such as universal background checks. Currently, only licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks prior to a gun sale. The bill Emerson is pushing would require all firearm sales, including those from unlicensed sellers, to include a background check.
Emerson also is working on an idea on a “red flag law,” which would make it easier to confiscate guns from people who are showing signs of being at-risk of using them. Emerson said that type of law would help in a case like the Menards distribution center investigation.
“We haven’t had a draft out there yet,” Emerson said of the red flag proposal. “It’s something we’re working on with the Attorney General’s office.”
Another idea is to reinstate a 48-hour waiting period between the time a person attempts to purchase a gun and when the gun is sold to that person.
“You can (under present law) walk in (to purchase a gun), and as long as you pass your background check, which can take a minute or two, you can walk out with your gun,” she said.
Another idea for a bill is to prohibit people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence from being allowed to own a gun, she said.
“What we’re really trying to do is prevent people, who shouldn’t have guns, from having guns,” Emerson said.
State Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, had doubts about the proposed legislation.
“Gun violence has occurred since guns were invented,” Bernier said. “If there were an easy solution, we would have done it by now. I’m working on mental health issues. We have a societal issue we need to look at more.”
Bernier said she “isn’t adverse to background checks,” but she added she wasn’t confident that any of the mass shootings would have been avoided if those background checks had been in place.
Bernier added that red flag laws sound like a good idea, but she added that many of those measures are already available to judges and law enforcement.
“Let’s have a conversation about why people are behaving the way they are,” Bernier said.
The Northwest Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative worked with Citizen Action of Wisconsin in hosting the event.