The feeling at the Duluth Civic Center on Wednesday was one of frustration and exhaustion.
About 100 people gathered for what has become a common occurrence in Duluth and communities across the country in recent years — a ceremony to honor the victims of recent mass shootings and call for action to end gun violence.
"I'm tired of the carnage," said Charles Gessert, a retired physician. "I'm tired of the fear — not for myself but for my country and what we've become. I'm tired of the mourning. Frankly, I'm tired of vigils and ceremonies. But mostly, I'm mightily tired of the inaction, the excuses, the evasions and the cowardice."
Organizers rang a bell to honor the victims of recent mass shootings at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif.; a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; and outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio. Combined, those incidents resulted in three dozen deaths and many additional injuries.
While remembering the victims, activists and public officials at the Duluth ceremony didn't hesitate to move into a political debate, as evidenced by the noon rally's "Honor them with Action" theme.
"I am mad as hell," said Sarah Mikesell, a volunteer with the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "I am angry that every day these senseless shootings continue. And some legislators whose job it is to make our country safe sit on their hands. I'm upset that it takes horrific mass shootings like the ones that happened this weekend to bring attention to this issue."
Activists and public officials expressed dismay over a lack of gun reform at both the state and federal levels. They criticized U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, who has yet to issue any public statement in response to the shootings, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has rebuffed calls for a special session to consider gun control legislation.
At the state level, two measures approved this year by the DFL-controlled Minnesota House of Representatives went unconsidered by the Republican-led Senate. One would expand criminal background checks for gun buyers, while the other would allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
"We're going to go down to the Capitol (next) year and we're going to push and we're going to advocate and we're going to change minds," said state Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth. "And if we don't, we're going to go to the elections and make this a mandate."
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson called for a "dynamic" interpretation of the Second Amendment. She noted the right to bear arms was ratified into the Constitution in 1791, when people were still using muskets and single-shot rifles.
"It is possible to build a movement where we do amend an amendment, where we do take bold actions on the local and state and national level to decrease access to guns that have the kind of ammunition that was never even possible when that amendment was written," Larson told the crowd.
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said he believes the "tide is changing" in the gun debate. He said he supports the Second Amendment but sees a clear need for universal background checks and "red-flag" laws.
Tusken added that Congress should also fund research into the "public health crisis" that has resulted from gun violence.
"More times than not in my career I've seen violence done to other people by people who had guns that shouldn't have," Tusken said. "So that's one step. But we also need to study this. We need to have funding that is going to support really meaningful education, data and research that's going to give us direction as to where legislation needs to go to keep the people in this country, state and city safe."
Susana Pelayo-Woodward, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said the issue is about more than just guns. A native of Mexico who has lived in Duluth for 30 years, Pelayo-Woodward said she was disturbed to learn that the El Paso shooter reportedly targeted Latinos.
"We need to call it what it is," she said. "We need to speak against white supremacy, racism and hate."
Monday happened to be the 27th anniversary of the day Joan Peterson's sister was killed in a domestic violence shooting. In the years since, the Duluth woman has become a vocal advocate for gun control measures.
"It was someone with a gun who killed her," Peterson said. "It was not about mental illness. It was not about video games. It was about an angry person with a gun. It's about easy access to guns that civilians should not have."