They walked together on Fort Atkinson’s Glacial River Trail Saturday morning, their matching orange T-shirts emblazoned with “Team Julian.”
Nicole Hayes of Milton and six family members each held a photo of her son, Julian Patterson, who was fatally shot March 12, 2018, in a robbery gone bad at a Fitchburg apartment complex.
A graduate of St. Paul’s Lutheran School and, in 2016, Fort Atkinson High School, Julian puts a local face to the fact that 100 Americans are killed each day by guns, just one of many sobering statistics prompting creation of National Wear Orange Day and Saturday’s family run/walk/bike event to raise awareness of gun violence in this nation.
The Whitewater Chapter of Moms Demand Action partnered with the Lake Country Chapter of Moms Demand Action to spearhead the event, joining 800 others nationwide in honoring the memories of gun violence victims, including Hadiya Pendleton of Chicago. After Hadiya was shot and killed in Chicago in 2013, just days after marching in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade, her friends started the first National Gun Violence Awareness Day in June 2015.
Hadiya’s favorite color was orange. That, and the fact that hunters wear blaze orange for safety, led to the event being named, simply, Wear Orange.
Started after the massacre at Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Jan. 3, 2003, Moms Demand Action is a 5-million-member nonprofit, nonpartisan grassroots organization that works for gun violence prevention locally and nationally. The group supports common-sense legislation including requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales, red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves or others and legislation such as the Violence against Women Act, which includes important gun safety provisions that will protect women from gun violence and save lives. It promotes responsible gun ownership, supports survivors of gun violence through the Everytown Survivor’s Network.
Many local partners joined Saturday’s effort to bring this Wear Orange event to the community, including Whitewater Unites Lives, League of Women Voters-Whitewater and others.
Jenny Rule of Whitewater, who heads up her community’s Moms Demand Action, said Fort Atkinson was chosen for Saturday’s event because the Glacial River Trail is a beautiful venue along a busy street, ensuring that the orange balloons, banners and orange-clad participants — and hopefully, their message — will be noticed. Also, lining the trail from the Rotary depot shelter south almost past Jones Dairy Farm were 605 little orange flags representing the 605 lives lost to gun violence in Wisconsin alone in one year.
“That makes an impact when you are biking and hiking along the trail and you realize, 605 lives lost, just in our state,” Rule said. “That is for one year, 2017. Two-thirds of those would be gun suicides.
“A lot of people, when they think of this issue, think of the mass shootings ... the Parkland or the Sandyhook or Columbine,” she continued. “The gun violence issue is much bigger than that, although that is what drew me to it. I have two teenage boys, and when I send them off to high school each day, I do get worried that it might be the last day I see them.”
She pointed out that after Sandyhook, there was legislative action to pass universal background checks, which 97 percent of Americans agreed should be required for gun purchases. But there are a lot of loopholes, such as buying a gun online or at a gun show.
“So can we get that one thing passed?” Rule asked, saying that since Newtown, there have been more than 200 school shootings, one almost every week. “It did pass the House of Representatives over 100 days ago, but they are not bringing it to the floor in the Senate.
“After Sandyhook, everyone was deeply affected by that,” Rule said. “I remember Barack Obama, after the vote failed, with tears in his eyes, saying ‘I am not proud of our nation today.’”
She continued: Fast-forward five years later, a young lady named Emma Gonzales from Parkland, Florida, after the shooting there at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Her speech a day or two after the shooting, the trauma that she had just been through, said, ‘why haven’t we fixed this yet? It’s been five years since elementary students were gunned down ... adults, come on.’ And they had to start their own movement. They are doing amazing and wonderful things. We support them and it is time for us, as an adult, to step up.”
Meanwhile, in addition to promoting awareness and gun safety legislation, Moms Demand Action also works toward safe gun storage through a program called Be SMART for Kids.
“We live in a gun culture and we recognize that, and we live in a community where our kids might go to other peoples’ homes and there might be guns there,” said Rule. “So it is actually a parent training program.”
Not only does it offer advice on securing one’s own firearms, she pointed out, but it also helps people with starting the conversation about guns at other peoples homes.
Rule said that SMART stands for:
• Secure all guns in your home and vehicles.
• Model responsible behavior around guns.
• Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes.
• Recognize the risks of teen suicide.
• Tell your peers to be SMART.
“R” is very important because it is about teen suicide,” Rule said, noting that access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times, and nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. “People realize just how insecure teens are. One bad day and they may have an unsecured gun and they might end their lives. It is a very dangerous situation.”
Rule emphasized that Wear Orange is not about owning guns; rather, it is about storing them safely and helping people have the conversation about that. In fact, she noted, gun owners are the most vehement about wanting gun storage to be safe because otherwise it gives them a bad name.
“We do a lot of things to keep our kids safe,” Rule explained. “If your child has an allergy, you say, ‘she can’t have peanut butter.’ If you have a pool, you say, ‘she doesn’t swim well.’ If you have a dog, (you say) ‘she’s allergic, so is there any way the dog can stay outside? And by the way, do you have any guns in your house? It’s OK if you do, but could you tell me how they are stored so I can make sure my child is safe?’
“We try to normalize it,” she said of the gun safety conversation. “We see the lightbulbs come on when they hear this message.”