Two days after 19-year-old College of William and Mary student and football player Nate Evans was shot to death in Norfolk, members of the community, local and state officials joined forces in Williamsburg for a march to end gun violence.
The march comes one year after the nationwide March for Our Lives event organized by students and victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year.
A group of about 120 people including residents, visitors, community organization leaders and state and local officials came together to raise awareness.
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd Congressional District, and Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, both spoke at the rally before the march.
During her speech, Luria said the shooting of Evans happened less than a mile away from her home in Norfolk Thursday night.
Local officials in attendance included James City County supervisor John McGlennon and Newport News city councilman David Jenkins.
Recently announced 96th District democratic candidates Chris Mayfield and Rebecca Leser were in attendance. Mark Downey, democratic candidate for the 3rd District, could not attend, but had William and Mary student health center medical director Dr. David D. Dafashy speak on his behalf in support of the cause.
The group marched down Duke of Gloucester Street chanting “not one more” and holding signs reading “not one more” and “common sense gun legislation needed, go vote.”
As the group marched toward Merchants Square, tourists on the sidewalks of Colonial Williamsburg cheered them on.
The march and rally were organized and sponsored by Students Demand Action of William and Mary, the Peninsula Progressive Network, Williamsburg-James City Democrats, Peninsula Indivisible, Williamsburg Indivisible Group, Williamsburg Unitarian Univeralists and Common Ground Williamsburg.
Samyuktha Mahadevan, chapter leader of Students Demand Action at William and Mary, said the organizations had planned the march for a few months and the recent death of Evans made the process difficult to navigate.
“We also held gun violence awareness events on campus all week this past week,” Mahadevan said. “With the New Zealand shooting last week and losing one of our own community members just two days ago, it has been a difficult process to raise awareness at the same time as it’s happening to our community.”
During her rally speech, Mahadevan called Evans a “a remarkable member of the William and Mary tribe who touched so many lives.”
Christine Payne, vice chair of Williamsburg-James City County Democrats and a member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Peninsula Moms Demand Action organization, said a year after the March for Our Lives, the issue of gun violence is still pertinent.
“We are here today to continue the conversation on common-sense gun laws and awareness in the community,” Payne said. “The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution isn’t mutually exclusive to gun safety. We can work in the constraints of our Constitution and still make our communities safer.”
During her rally speech, Luria said there needs to be a stop to senseless gun violence in communities.
Luria said she co-sponsored House Resolution 8, also known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which establishes universal background checks for gun purchases and new requirements for transfers between private parties, which is now headed to the Senate for approval.
Luria also discussed another piece of legislation, House Resolution 1112, also known as the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019, which extends the period allowed for a background check by law enforcement from three to 10 days, which is also being considered by the Senate.
“We are hearing you in Washington. Please keep pushing and we will continue to support your efforts,” Luria said.
In an interview, Luria said it is her job and others’ as legislators to listen to the voices of the community on important issues such as these.
“People want to know that their children are safe in schools and places of worship,” Luria said.
Sen. Mason said in his speech that the issue of gun violence is not about politics.
“It’s about people and people’s lives,” Mason said. “We have got to find the answers to stop the violence and we need to have more conversations that move toward actions to protect our communities.”
McGlennon said there are ways to be a civilized and safe society without giving up constitutional rights.
Jojo Di Scipio, William and Mary freshman and membership chair of the college’s chapter of Students Demand Action, said the issue of gun violence is prevalent every day.
“We just lost a member of our William and Mary tribe to gun violence,” Di Scipio said. “My mom is a school teacher, my sister is a freshman in high school and I fear for their safety every day. We need legislation passed so you don’t have to worry about your loved ones’ safety.”
York County resident Mary McGonigle said she thought the march was a great way to continue to raise awareness.
“We need common sense gun safety laws,” McGonigle said. “Children and people are getting killed every day and it’s ridiculous. We need to stand up to this issue together.”
Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ashleyrluck on Twitter