A group of about 25 people gathered on the sidewalk in front of Soldotna Creek Park on Saturday to call for gun reform. Holding signs that contained phrases like “End Gun Violence,” “NRA GO AWAY” and “Blessed are the Murdered Children,” the group received intermittent honks of support while the annual Kenai River Festival took place in the park behind them.
The protest was one of many that took place in communities throughout the United States as part of a second March for Our Lives event that was organized in the wake of multiple recent mass shootings. The first March for Our Lives event took place in 2018 after 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Saturday’s protests came after mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, and in Buffalo, New York, where a gunman shot and killed 10 Black people at a supermarket. As reported by the Associated Press, thousands of people rallied through the country Saturday, including on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Bonnie Nichols, who was protesting outside Soldotna Creek Park, said she was “sickened” by last month’s shooting in Uvalde. Nichols said gun reforms like red flag laws and regulations on high-capacity magazines need to be implemented at the federal level, but will need bipartisan support.
“I’m seeking harm mitigation,” Nichols said. “You know, how can we minimize harm? Maybe we’re not going to get rid of 100% of it, but can we get rid of 20% of it? Or 30% of it?”
Extreme Risk laws, also known as “red flag” laws, allow someone’s loved ones or law enforcement to petition a court for an order that would temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns, according to Everytown Support Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization that focuses on awareness and education about gun violence prevention.
“We should be putting people first and children first and stop traumatizing our nation,” Nichols said.
Fay Herold, another protestor, drove to Soldotna from Seward on Saturday for the demonstration.
“It’s not a political thing, you know, it’s very much a moral and safety issue,” Herold said of gun reform. “It’s a public safety issue and we’ve got to address it as such. It’s a health crisis — mental health is at the crux of it — and together, we have to come up with solutions and not just continue to say that there’s nothing we can do.”
The group received intermittent honks of support and a shout of “Nobody’s honking! There’s a reason!” from one motorist.
Michele Vasquez, who, along with Susan Smalley, heads Many Voices, said Saturday that it’s the second time the group has mobilized to call for gun reform. Many Voices was created in January of 2017 and participated in the original March for Our Lives in 2018, which came about after the shooting in Parkland.
“March for our Lives, put out the national call to action again in the last month or so,” Vasquez said. “(Because of) all the mass shootings that have happened, we decided to participate.”
Vasquez said Many Voices will have a table at the June 15 Soldotna Wednesday Market where they will present the Be SMART program, which was launched to help raise awareness about how secure gun storage can save children’s lives.
The Be SMART program was created by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. The group also has an action fund, which focuses on advocacy and legislative work.
“Any mention of gun reform seems to (be equated to) taking away your guns, and that’s not what we’re proposing,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez said she wants the age limit to purchase an AR-15 raised from 18, for universal background checks required for gun purchases and an end to the so-called gun show loophole, which refers to firearms sold at gun shows that do not require the seller to conduct a federal background check of the buyer.
“Common-sense gun reform is what we’re seeking,” Vasquez said.