A call for stronger gun control laws was a constant theme on Friday during a vigil at First Lutheran Church to mark the seventh anniversary of the shooting that left 20 children and six staff members dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“We know that common-sense gun legislation will help,” Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said. “And it’s so frustrating that we can’t get our legislators to be on the same page with us.”
A few dozen people came into the sanctuary during the noon hour on a snowy day to commemorate the event, which actually occurred on Dec. 14, 2012. They lit candles and listened as a dozen speakers, most with stories of personal loss, called for such measures as banning the AR-15 assault rifle, more extensive background checks and “red flag” laws. The latter would allow police or family members to petition a court for temporary removal of guns from someone known to be a danger to him or herself or others.
This year, Tusken said, he consulted with St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman when it became known to police that a man with a permit to carry was mentally unstable. Without a red flag law in place, there was nothing police could do to protect the man from himself or others from him, Tusken said.
Each speaker finished by ringing a bell in honor of an individual or group of people affected by gun violence.
For Wendy Waha, that person was Kevin John Weiss, killed in a shooting a year and three days earlier outside a Gary-New Duluth residence.
“Our innocence has been shattered, and life feels a lot less safe and a lot more violent,” Waha said. “We now think about things like guns, and that such a weapon doesn’t allow for second chances, or grace, or restorative ends to conflict.”
Waha spoke calmly and forcefully for nearly five minutes. But when it came time to say her brother’s name before ringing the bell, she faltered. After tearfully reciting his name, she added, “I would ask everyone here to please take action to do something that helps put common (sense) gun laws into place in order to end this insanity.”
Gun violence afflicting African Americans, Native Americans and the LGBTQ+ community were among the themes, along with shootings and threatened shootings in schools.
Karin Berdahl, now a student at Drake University in Iowa, noted that it had been eight months and eight days since she was in the orchestra room at Duluth East High School “cradling myself and my friend, shaking with terror” after an alert was given about a man with a gun in the school.
She was born two years after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., Berdahl said, and was 11 when the Sandy Hook shooting took place.
“I have never lived in a time where gun violence isn’t prevalent,” she said. “I have never not lived with that fear. Restrictions can be set in place. Laws can be passed. I was lucky that day; many are not. We are children, dying before we live.”
Mary Streufert, co-president of Northland Protect Minnesota, closed the vigil with a call to action, urging those in attendance to advocate for stronger laws.
“Some of us are quiet and introverted; some of us are extroverted and want to get into people’s faces,” Streufert said. “Well, we have ways for each one of you to be active.”