Thursday, June 16, 2022

Students, Teachers Call For Stricter Gun Laws at Beaver's March For Our Lives Rally

Photo: Community organizer Julian Taylor speaks behind students at Beaver County’s March For Our Lives rally on Thursday, calling for stricter gun laws. “These are our future lawyers, our future presidents, our future leaders,” he said. “It’s time for us to have their back.”

By Chrissy Suttles

Beaver County Times

June 10, 2922 - BEAVER — In April, Iain Eastman’s former student opened fire on two teens in a Chippewa Township parking lot.

Those bullets missed the intended targets – instead striking a nearby structure – but it’s not the first time Eastman’s been touched by gun violence.

A Blackhawk High science teacher and father, Eastman is also a hunter and gun owner of three decades. Responsible firearm owners, he said, have an obligation to advocate for common sense gun laws in America.

As an educator, he vividly remembers his first in-service day dedicated to active shooter training in the wake of Sandy Hook’s massacre. Rather than improving curriculum, he spent the day learning how to disarm an assailant and build barricades to protect his students.

“There’s not a safe place anymore,” he told a crowd of about 100 people on the steps of the Beaver County Courthouse Thursday night. “There’s no ‘Beaver bubble’ that’s gonna protect us anymore. I used to teach in Baltimore. Four years after I left, there was a shooting on the first day of school in the cafeteria.”

Blackhawk High science teacher Iain Eastman speaks at Beaver County's March For Our Lives rally in Beaver Thursday.

Just weeks after an 18-year-old man slaughtered 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15-style rifle at a Texas elementary school, local residents, politicians and activists honored the victims and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver.

Eastman said he knows gun control works because fully automatic weapons – as opposed to semi-automatic weapons like AR-15-style rifles used in Uvalde and other mass shootings – are already highly regulated in America and rarely end up in the hands of civilians.

'What if that happened to me?'

Among the demonstrators Thursday were local students who shared the trauma of enduring regular active shooter drills and questioning their safety in the classroom. One Aliquippa Middle School student whose first name is Dashawn said he was afraid to return to school after hearing about the recent Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“What if that person came to my school?” he asked. “It just had me thinking…what if that happened to me? How would my mom feel?”

Residents of all ages honored the victims of gun violence and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver.

Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker’s sister, Diedre, was shot and killed by her former boyfriend at her Valley Terrace apartment more than a decade ago.

“She was murdered by a man that should never have had a gun, stole a gun and shot my sister,” he said. “My mom still cries. I still cry. I miss her every day. It’s been 12 years, and I still wish I could hear her voice in my head. But I can’t.”

Politicians can be replaced, Walker said in a soul-stirring speech, but the lives of loved ones can not.

“The graveyard is full of dreams deferred, missions not completed and mothers' crying,” he said.

Maria Smalley, president of the Beaver County Young Democrats and a mother of three, said the prevalence of national gun violence has prompted many sleepless nights.

A candlelight vigil held during Beaver County’s March For Our Lives rally honoring the victims of the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“For years now, I’ve had this recurring dream,” Smalley said. “I’m in a crowd with all my kids and my nephew. There’s four of them and one of me. I can hear gunfire in the distance and I can’t escape because, no matter how hard I try, I have two hands and I have four babies. I can't save them.”

Barriers to meaningful reform

More than 45,200 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including self-inflicted gunshots, murders and accidents.

“Nobody is trying to take all the guns away, but we can do stuff to make us safer,” Smalley said.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17, Mount Lebanon, praised the U.S. House’s recent vote to pass the "Protecting Our Kids Act,” a legislative package designed to strengthen national gun laws. The legislation would, in part, raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high-capacity magazines, define gun storage requirements and crack down on ghost guns – untraceable firearms often made using kits purchased online.

Demonstrators pledge to stay active in the movement to end American gun violence at Beaver County’s March For Our Lives rally Thursday.

Although the bills will likely face defeat in the Senate, Lamb credited activists like those at Thursday’s rally with keeping the pressure on lawmakers. He blamed the continued inaction in Washington, D.C., on deep-pocketed gun lobbyists and partisan gridlock.

“These bills are getting bigger and stronger with more teeth every time we go back to the drawing board,” Lamb said.

Chris Deluzio, the Democrat running for Lamb’s soon-to-be-vacated 17th Congressional District seat, called routine shootings in schools, grocery stores and movie theaters “insanity.” The Iraq War veteran condemned “weapons of war in the hands of 18-year-olds.”

“My friends and I had the best training in the world,” he said. “You know what those weapons were designed for? A single purpose: To swiftly and efficiently kill people in battle. They don’t belong on our streets; they don’t belong in our schools.”

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