Maroon, orange and tears were abundant Wednesday at the state Capitol during a tribute to the victims marking the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre.
Sponsored by the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, the ceremony started with comments to the nearly 50 attendees about gun violence prevention from Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, University of Wisconsin Chief of Police Sue Riseling and WAVE members.
The comments were followed by a “lie-in” where 32 people dressed in Virginia Tech orange and black lay down one-by-one to demonstrate the number of lives taken in last year’s shooting.
“As the mayor of a college town, I’m here to say that we will not have a truly safe society until we have meaningful, strong restrictions on handguns and assault weapons everywhere in America,” said Cieslewicz. “It’s time to take real action.”
Cieslewicz emphasized the difference between sport guns and assault weapons, adding he himself is a turkey hunter.
According to WAVE Director Jeri Bonavia, Wisconsin residents can take action to prevent gun violence by promoting gun safety education and supporting gun violence prevention legislation.
Riseling stressed that some people, like the Virginia Tech killer, should never have had access to weapons or ammunition.
“Like some others in our country, he was not capable of rational thought in resolving his perceived wrongs,” Riseling said. “He believed only that his option was to strike out, to lash out against people he didn’t know.”
Bills to microstamp all guns and require a criminal background check for all gun sales were introduced to Legislature this year, but died with the end of the session.
Bonavia said she hopes the bills will pick up next session, although gun control tends to be a controversial topic in Legislature.
“I’d like to emphasize that it’s not gun owners standing in the way of smart solutions,” Bonavia said. “The problem is a small but vocal group of extremists who are fighting for solutions that are fear-based and not evidence-based.”
Bonavia’s daughter Jenna, a UW freshman, spoke about the recent formation of a new student organization to advocate students and teachers being able to carry concealed guns around campus.
Jenna Bonavia added she thought the idea of a student “packing heat” in lecture was terrifying, and she will consider starting a branch of WAVE at UW to counter Students for Concealed Carry’s influence.
However, SCC campus leader Bret Bostwick said it was important to differentiate between feeling safe and being safe on campus.
“One important thing we learned from the Virginia Tech massacre is that a sign that says ‘Gun Free Zone’ only applies to law-abiding citizens,” Bostwick said in a phone interview.
It is currently illegal for Wisconsin residents, with the exception of police officers and sheriff deputies, to carry a concealed weapon.
Cieslewicz said he was proud to be one of the mayors fighting the easy accessibility of guns in the U.S.“The way to fight violence in the world is not through more violence, retribution or anger,” Cieslewicz said. “The way to end violence is the opposite; to increase the supply of kindness in the world.”