Rally seeking gun regulation, speaking against gun violence planned for downtown Ames on Saturday
This story has been updated to reflect a change in the event schedule because of weather.
An Ames High School student who will be participating in one of many March for Our Lives rallies scheduled for this weekend knows the recent shooting outside a local church brought the issue of gun violence home, but he also wants people to realize the problem is much bigger in scale.
David Lee said, "I hope people understand that gun violence isn’t just another thing that happens at a national level, that doesn’t impact us."
On June 2, a 33-year-old gunman shot and killed two women, 21 and 22 years old, outside Cornerstone Church in Ames with a 9 mm pistol, before killing himself, authorities said. Authorities have said he had been in a relationship that had recently ended with one of the victims.
The gunman also had a legal history of alleged assault and threats against other women, as well as having been arrested two days before the shooting for charges related to alleged harassment of the woman he targeted outside the church — who served in the same Iowa National Guard unit as him.
The shooting in Ames came on the heels of several high-profile mass shootings in recent weeks that the country continues to mourn, including: 10 people killed at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 14; 19 students and two teachers killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24; and four people killed at a medical building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1.
Last year had the highest number of mass shootings in the U.S. of any year since 2014, and at least 245 mass shootings have been recorded so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
The archive defines a mass shooting as one that involves four or more people shot or killed.
The number of people dying from gun violence every day in the U.S. reached a record high in 2020 — an average of 124 people a day, according to a new report from John Hopkins University.
The 45,222 gun deaths in the U.S. that year was the highest number recorded since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking firearm deaths in 1968, according to the study's authors.
Suicides by firearm — more than 24,000 — accounted for more than half of those deaths, but homicides by firearm rose by 35%.
The CDC also found that in 2020 firearms had become the leading cause of death among children and teenagers — above car crashes.
The same night as the shooting outside Cornerstone Church in Ames, President Joe Biden had delivered a speech asking Congress for gun control measures.
"This is not just a one-time occurrence. These shootings, at a larger scale, happen everywhere," Lee, the Ames High student, said.
"We need to recognize that this is an issue we need to act on before these events happen, to try to mitigate those risks and dangers of injury and death," he said.
Ames march scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday
Lee is a rising Ames High School senior who co-leads the group Students Advocating for Civil Rights Education, or SACRE.
He also is a leader of a broader student group, Iowa WTF, that organized school walkouts across central Iowa in April over the state's ban on participation of transgender female athletes in sports, the "divisive concept" education law and education transparency bills about school curriculum and library materials.
SACRE is one of the local partners with March for Our Lives Iowa that organized Ames' march, scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday. Ames Moms Demand Action and Dog Eared Books were also listed as partners in a news release.
The Ames event had originally been scheduled to include an outdoor march around downtown, but weather caused a change in schedule to instead be held indoors at Dog Eared Books.
The Ames event will start at Tom Evans Park and spend its first hour circling from there around the perimeter of downtown to Bandshell Park, with the second hour dedicated to speakers and the voices of community members.
March for Our Lives Iowa and other partner organizations, including Iowa WTF, were set to hold marches Friday in Des Moines and then also on Saturday in Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities, Sioux City and Storm Lake.
Esha Bolar, executive director of March for Our Lives Iowa, called upon Iowans in a news release to vote against a proposed state constitutional amendment that would add the right to keep and bear arms. The amendment would require a majority of Iowans' votes in support for it to be added to the Constitution.
Republican lawmakers have said the change is needed because Iowa is one of a few states without constitutional language protecting the right to keep and bear arms. But Democratic lawmakers say the language in the amendment, which requires restrictions on guns to survive “strict scrutiny” in a court challenge, is more stringent than the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment and could lead to gun laws being struck down in court.
Bolar said, "The failure of this ballot measure is our primary demand," but she also called upon Gov. Kim Reynolds and state legislators to pass measures such as mandatory waiting period laws, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms, "police demilitarization laws" and universal background checks.
She also advocated for federal actions such as a ban on assault rifles, raising the minimum purchase age of firearms from 18 to 21 years old and closing legal loopholes that "protect businesses and abusive partners."
Lee said he supports solutions such as those because of their efficacy. "I didn't want to make this issue political, especially after what happened in Ames," and he said he doesn't want to use the lives of victims to push any agenda, beyond recognizing there's a human issue that needs to be addressed.
He was in seventh grade at the time of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — the catalyst for the March for Our Lives movement, built by the activism of students from that school after 17 of their classmates and staff were killed there.
Lee didn't fully grasp then what had happened. "I didn’t really exactly know the severity of the situation, of how big that was. I just saw it on the news a little bit, and my friends were talking about it," but he did later participate in a school walkout that spring in Ames against gun violence — one of many like it across the country at the time.
"It is kind of upsetting that even after so many shootings and so many people having to die because of our failure to act accordingly, it’s upsetting that we haven’t done anything to try to reduce gun violence and the consequences of that when we have the chance to," he said.
Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.