On Sunday, June 3, as heavy rain poured down from above, 32 mothers lay prostrate on the wet concrete in front of the Old Firehouse in downtown McLean. Lined up like dominos and clad from head to toe in black, they lay in silence for several minutes, raindrops pelting their faces and soaking the maroon and orange ribbons hanging around each of their necks.
But no one seemed to mind the rain — getting wet seemed a fairly inconsequential sacrifice given what befell the 32 people for whom they lay on the ground. On April 16, 32 students and teachers lost their lives in the murderous shooting rampage carried out on the Virginia Tech campus by student Seung-Hui Cho. The unprecedented tragedy shocked and disturbed, not only Virginians, but people around the globe.
Six days after Cho’s killing spree, on April 22, Alexandria resident Abby Spangler expressed her outrage over the massacre, and her frustrations with the lenient Virginia gun laws that played a role in arming Cho, by dressing in black and lying down in front of City Hall in Alexandria. Many of Spangler’s friends joined in her simple protest, and since then, similar demonstrations have been held in several other Virginia localities, as well as in New York City and in Philadelphia.
McLean residents Shelley Slade and Anjali Gupta were subsequently inspired to bring the protest to McLean. The two women recruited local mothers, residents and politicians to participate in their June 3 demonstration on the Old Firehouse property in downtown McLean.
DESPITE THE WEATHER’S sopping conditions, demonstrators showed up in full force on Sunday, and carried out the peaceful lie-down protest as planned. Anjali Gupta addressed the wet group of protestors and spoke about their reason for being there.
“We’re here as concerned mothers,” said Gupta. “We’re here to express our outrage about lax gun laws … we need the politicians to step up and change gun laws.”
McLean resident and mother Linda Donovan said she heard about the protest from Gupta and Slade, and instantly wanted to be a participant.
“I want to make it so that tragedies like this can be prevented,” said Donovan in regard to the Virginia Tech shootings.
Vienna resident Dina Mackney said she felt the demonstration was a perfect way to show support for the families affected by the Virginia Tech shootings, while simultaneously speaking out against the loopholes in the current Virginia gun laws.
“It’s just a good way for moms to stand together on this issue,” said Mackney, who has two young children, ages 5 and 2.
McLean residents and Democratic candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates 34th district seat Richard “Rip” Sullivan and Margaret “Margi” Vanderhye also attended Sunday’s protest. However, Sullivan said he was not there in his role as political candidate.
“This is very clearly a non-partisan event, as it should be,” said Sullivan. “I’m here as a dad.”
Sullivan, a father of four, said he will never forget the horror he felt on the day of the shootings.
“I think that for anyone with kids, particularly college-age kids, it was just a terrifying day,” said Sullivan, whose eldest daughter is a rising senior at Vanderbilt University.
Sullivan added that while the Virginia Tech massacre “shines a giant spotlight on mental health issues in Virginia,” it also made clear the dangers that are made possible by the various loopholes and moderate restrictions on gun purchases in Virginia. Sullivan said he is not in favor of abolishing the second amendment right to bear arms, but he does believe that it should not be an easy task for a regular individual to purchase semi-automatic weapons, such as the .22 caliber and Glock handguns used by Cho in the Tech killings.
“Whatever we prevent will be impossible to measure, but we have to be really aggressive to close in some of those Virginia loopholes,” said Sullivan.
RICHMOND RESIDENT Andrew Goddard is another person who believes that the loopholes in Virginia gun laws need to be tightened. His son Colin Goddard was shot four times by Cho, but was fortunate enough to escape with his life. On Sunday morning, Goddard woke up early and drove from Richmond to McLean to attend the “Protest Easy Guns” demonstration. He said he was compelled to make the drive because he felt so moved by their voluntary concern and commitment to the cause.
“I’m upset because I was involved, but all these people, they are just doing this to show their support for this very serious issue,” said Goddard. “I don’t know why our heads are stuck in the sand and we can’t see how serious it is — this issue is much more threatening and dangerous to our children than any plague or disease like SARS … people are dying daily because of this.”
Goddard, who is originally from England, said that gun control is a non-issue for the British.
“People don’t even know what the gun laws are because they don’t need to know,” he said. “They don’t have guns in their home. I don’t need to know what the laws are regarding nuclear reactors because I don’t have a nuclear reactor in my house.”
Goddard feels incredibly lucky to have his son home safe and recuperating, but he is passionate about pursuing more stringent gun control laws in Virginia.
“No one from the general public should be able to purchase multiple-shot weapons because they don’t need them,” said Goddard. “There is no one who needs to have a gun that shoots 173 bullets in 9 minutes. There is no reason for anyone to own a gun like that … the kind of guns used in the assault have no other purpose than to kill people. He [Cho] didn’t misuse those guns — he used them for exactly what they are designed for.”