Yesterday, Downtown Las Vegas saw a wave of orange as gun violence prevention advocates gathered at the Healing Garden to remember those lost and call for action to prevent future tragedies. Almost exactly eight months after Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, locals took part of the national Wear Orange weekend to demand a change to the “new normal” that this very park symbolizes.
“I can’t hear ‘thoughts and prayers’ any more. There has to be action.”
– Christine Caria, Route 91 Strong and Brady Campaign
Eight months ago, a gunman opened fire from his suite at Mandalay Bay and killed 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Nearly 500 others were injured, including Christine Caria. Today, Caria works with Route 91 Strong to provide support to fellow 1 October survivors and victims’ families. She also serves as President of the Las Vegas chapter of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. Caria spoke with us at the Las Vegas Wear Orange event, part of a nationwide commemoration of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, to share more about her journey into the gun violence prevention movement.
Caria was trampled upon as others were rushing to flee the festival grounds. She doesn’t blame them for doing what they could to survive. Instead, her own traumatic experience has led her to community service and gun violence prevention advocacy: “I didn’t choose to have this experience. This experience chose me. I feel this is a calling. I can’t hear ‘thoughts and prayers’ any more. There has to be action.”
For Christine Caria, “Doing nothing is just not an option.” As a survivor who’s still recovering from physical and psychological wounds, she understands the needs of other survivors. As Caria told us, “I wake up every single morning replaying that tragedy. There’s not a day when I don’t do something to raise awareness, or do something to help other survivors to make it a better day for them.”
“By working together, we can be hopeful. We can do something to end gun violence.”
– Linda Cavazos, Moms Demand Action
Christine Caria wasn’t alone in channeling her pain and sorrow into determination to enact positive change. During the Wear Orange program, Moms Demand Action survivor engagement lead Linda Cavazos shared her story of how a family tragedy propelled her into action: “I lost my younger brother Louie when he took his own life with a gun that wasn’t his. It’s not something that a family ever recovers from. My brother is a huge part of why in work with other gun violence survivors.”
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) June 2, 2018
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) June 2, 2018
Cavazos then spoke of the larger picture of gun violence in America: “Over 90 people lose their lives every day to gun violence. […] We can not and will not accept that reality.” She continued, “By working together, we can be hopeful. We can do something to end gun violence.”
This is something that we often forget when we discuss gun violence in America: It’s not just that huge mass shooting we see on the national news. It’s the relative who found it easier to commit suicide than find the help he needed. It’s the neighbor who hasn’t been seen since she found herself in a huge fight with her spouse. It’s the student who was gunned down on her way home from school. It’s all the shootings that appear on the local news while we’re waiting for the weather report.
“All of the thousands of people who lose their lives to gun violence every day are part of the human family. They are someone’s family. Even if you did not know them, someone else did.”
– Elizabeth Becker, Moms Demand Action
After the program, Moms Demand Action’s Elizabeth Becker spoke with us and made clear the stakes in this fight for stop gun violence: “All of the people, all of the thousands of people who lose their lives to gun violence every day, are part of the human family. They are someone’s family. Even if you did not know them, someone else did.”
While we were speaking, I could see several candidates and elected officials nearby, including NV-04 candidates Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas), and Gubernatorial hopefuls Chris Giunchigliani (D) and Steve Sisolak (D). When asked what Nevada voters should know about what’s at stake in this election, Becker said Nevadans need to remember the facts and reject the misleading rhetoric that other candidates have used to sow confusion: “I’m hoping to elevate facts. […] No one wants to impede anyone’s Second Amendment rights. We need to keep the facts straight.”
“If we can all just focus on what we agree on, and take it from there, we can get to the solution.”
– Christine Caria
Though challenges remain, Christine Caria sees hope in the burgeoning movement for gun violence prevention: “Before, we weren’t allowed to talk about it. Now, we can talk about it. The cat’s out of the bag.” She continued, “We need to focus on the humanity, what brought us together.”
What brings us together? Perhaps the concept of safety, and perhaps the instinct of protecting our loved ones. Caria harkened back to her harrowing experience on 1 October to make this point: “When we were all fleeing for our lives, nobody asked us who we voted for. We were all just focused on saving our lives.”
That was a matter of life and death, whereas the debate over gun violence is… About life and death. According to Christine Caria, “If we can all just focus on what we agree on, and take it from there, we can get to the solution.”
Perhaps if more of our elected leaders had that kind of attitude, we’d see a far different conversation in Carson City and Washington, D.C. Perhaps we should keep in mind who elects those leaders in the first place.