Early Thursday morning, gun violence survivors and families of victims finally finished reading the names of all the people who have been killed by guns since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The list of over 3300 people took 12 hours to read. The Newtown Action Alliance organized a reading at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown while other groups read outside the Capitol as a “filibuster” of the filibuster by 13 pro-gun senators that was finally defeated Thursday morning. The Senate’s gun reform plan, which features expanded background checks for gun sales at gun shows and on the Internet, will now go to the floor for debate.
Christian Heyne, whose parents were shot in Thousand Oaks, California, on Memorial Day in 2005, was among the readers at the Capitol. Heyne’s mother was killed and his father survived three gunshot wounds when their friend’s neighbor went on a rampage starting at their friend’s house and ending in the gunman’s suicide at Wal-Mart 16 hours later. Four people were killed and five were injured. Heyne decided to dedicate his life to stopping gun violence, and is now a legislative assistant for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“I’ve always been in support of gun violence prevention but I would be lying if I said I knew [before the shooting] any of the gun laws that existed,” Heyne said. “That’s why victims of gun violence do have a level of expertise on this, because they have seen firsthand. They have found out the loopholes, and then all of a sudden you realize, ‘holy crap, in 33 states in this country you can buy a gun without a background check.’ There were so many things I assumed.”
Displaying a banner proclaiming “They Deserve A Vote,” Heyne, along with victims and family members from the Newtown, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Tucson shootings, read the names to remind lawmakers of the cost of government inaction on gun violence. Republican efforts to keep the bill from even being debated, he said, is “completely disrespectful to the lives of those we’ve lost.”
On Tuesday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), one of the Republicans who tried to block the bill, dismissed suggestions that victims have a stake in the gun debate. Inhofe asserted the gun legislation has nothing to do with victims or their families, and that they only believe it does because President Obama is manipulating them. Victims of gun violence have also endured callous claims by the gun lobby that “the Newtown effect,” or the public’s grief and outrage after each new shooting, would fade away before gun laws could be strengthened. The gun lobby and Republican lawmakers claim that expanded background checks will lead to a national gun registry the government will use to round up law-abiding gun owners, even though the bill explicitly outlaws a national gun registry in three different places.
As the debate goes forward in the Senate, Heyne noted it was important to counter the “misinformation” pushed by the gun lobby. To demonstrate the ease with which criminals are able to get guns through the current system, Heyne personally went to Virginia and bought a gun for $500 in cash. “He threw it in a paper, food-lined bag and I was on my way. And there was no paperwork, there was no background check, no record kept. That’s illegal in this country.”
While reading the names, Heyne was struck by the wide-reaching impact of each shooting that occurred as a result of the gun lobby’s obstructionism.
“Each one of those names is not just one person. As victims we realize that,” he said. “It took til 1 in the morning to read through those names, but each one of those people had an entire network of individuals whose lives will never be the same.”