Gun-control advocates will hold a vigil Sunday at the “Release the Fear” sculpture in downtown Phoenix to honor victims of gun violence.
“When we talk about gun violence, it doesn’t just affect the victims or their immediate family members,” said Geraldine Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety. “This takes a toll on our country, and so we’re going to try to tell that story as much as we can.”
Hills’ group is organizing the vigil, scheduled to start at 4 p.m. in front of the sculpture at Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street. Partially sculpted from melted weapons, the monument was created by Robert Miley, scheduled to speak at the vigil along with Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego.
The event is also being held to commemorate the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six adults.
Dozens of other cities across the country are holding similar events this weekend in solidarity with the Newtown Foundation, formed after the Sandy Hook shooting, and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. The vigils come about a week after the mass shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 dead and 21 others injured.
Hills, a lifelong Republican, was personally affected by gun violence, when her younger brother, Adam Hills, was shot and killed during a family hunting trip by a mentally unstable man in October 1994. A year after her brother’s death, she formed Arizonans for Gun Safety and, since then, has advocated for polices that would help quell gun violence.
“Not one piece of legislation or one policy is going to stop mass killings,” she said. “Nobody is saying that. But to say that you can’t do anything because one thing doesn’t do everything is a ridiculous argument. Yes, it’s going to take multiple things, but lets start with what makes sense.”
Hills said a good start would be implementing policies to keep guns out of the hands of people who she said shouldn’t have access to them, including those on terrorist watch lists and those with mental-health issues. She also supports a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks.
Jennifer Longdon, vice president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, also thinks there should be more thorough background checks on people who purchase guns. She said this would help reduce gun violence.
“As a gun owner, what disturbs me the most is how lax our gun laws are to the point where there are very [few] requirements in terms of education and proving that one can safely operate and maintain a firearm,” she said.
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Longdon became a gun-control advocate after she and her fiancé, David Rueckert, were shot in November 2004. Both gun owners, they went to get dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix when a vehicle sideswiped their truck and its driver shot at them five times.
Rueckert received three wounds from two bullets, one of which went through his left temple. He became blind and lost some cognitive abilities. A bullet went through Longdon's back, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The person who shot at them fled and never was found.
Longdon said she often talks about her experience to raise awareness of random gun violence, which she said is “more pervasive” than people think, and to highlight the thousands of people affected by shootings.
“We focus on mass shootings, which are horrific, and I do not in any way take anything from that,” she said. “But in my own mind, while those are horrific, they don’t account for the larger public-safety issue over how more than 100,000 people are shot every year.”