by Eliza Lo Chin, MD, MPH
Last week, I had the privilege of representing AMWA at the 11th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence organized by the Newtown Action Alliance, of which AMWA is a partnership organization. I witnessed the core of a movement that is fighting gun violence in a way that I will never forget.
The event was held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in a sanctuary packed with gun violence survivors, advocates, and leaders, faith-based leaders, musicians, and special guests, including Congressional representatives, agency directors, former Representative Gabby Giffords, and First Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.
The two-page agenda was filled with short speeches and poignant stories, punctuated by musical interludes, including heartfelt performances by a youth choir and vocal artists.
Survivors and family members were invited to share their story or recognize a loved one at the microphone. The line of speakers stretched the length of the sanctuary. Each time I thought we were nearing the end, another row would rise, each bearing a photo of a loved one, each one a story of a life cut short.
There were tears, remembrances, and sorrow. Listening to each one, I began to see beyond the statistics of gun violence to the face of survivors. Some spoke of the empty seat at the table and the ache of what never would be. But the tears also turned into a cry for action. There was a sense of resilience and a tenacity to see the work to the end.
I spoke with one couple. Nearly 20 years ago, George and Kathleen Higgins had lost two family members due to gun violence.
Kathleen’s words summed up the feeling of so many — “Grief brought us to our knees. Compassion brought us to our feet.” The couple now works with the Delaware Coalition on Gun Violence to ensure that other families don’t have to face that same experience. Learn more about their story HERE.
When Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox, Co-Directors of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, shared what they had accomplished in the short time since their appointment, I began to see the hope of this community. Their speeches were followed by David Hogg, Cofounder of Leaders We Deserve and March for Our Lives and Dr. Brian Williams, trauma surgeon, veteran, gun violence survivor from Texas.
At the end, candle lighting was set to the backdrop of Jershika Maple’s Rescue, performed by Lauren Daigle.
Firearms are currently the number one cause of death for U.S. children. This statistic is completely preventable. With the right policies and safeguards in place, children don’t need to die. They don’t need to be afraid of going to certain classes because the classroom has no closet to hide in. They don’t need to face a lifetime of post-traumatic stress as a survivor of gun violence.
Each of us has a role to play in the growing epidemic of gun violence.
AMWA’s Gun Violence Solutions Task Force led by pediatrician Dr. Nina Agrawal meets monthly on Mondays. In November 2021, the task force had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Jackson, then executive director of Community Justice Action Fund, for a webinar on institutional racial bias towards gun violence victims in healthcare. AMWA is also partnered with Newtown Action Alliance’s #EndGunViolence Lunch & Lobby Sessions. Newtown Action Alliance is led by Chairwoman Po Murray.
Use AMWA’s Action Hub to contact your congressional representative about legislation that will help curb the gun violence epidemic. It takes less than two minutes. If we don’t act now, another generation will continue to face more trauma and violence. And if gun violence has not yet already hit close to home, it will.