Jefferson’s only March for Our Lives

~by Denise O’Brien Van

When I was a bride in Iowa City more than 50 years ago, a friend gave me a tiny pistol to protect myself while my husband spent his evenings doing research for his graduate degree in the University’s library archives, and I practiced housewifery in our trailer house. Having the firearm seemed to make sense to me at the time.

My friend showed me how to shoot it. It was much smaller than the Roy Rogers cap pistol I got for my seventh birthday, and probably not as accurate. If I had pointed it at someone, it wouldn’t have even winged the transgressor; perhaps it would have grazed a person near by. I kept the gun in one drawer, and its tiny bullets in another.

We moved to Des Moines, and the pistol made the move, still separated from its ammo. But when the time came for our little family to move to Chicago, the pistol, dismantled, went into the garbage a piece at a time over several weeks, and its miniscule bullets, were tossed in later, one at a time. It made sense to me not to take a weapon to a big city. Almost 50 years ago, I knew that any kind of gun in a house in metropolitan Chicago could be turned on me, or my two little girls, or, just as bad, stolen and used on someone else.

I’ve always felt quite embarrased and ashamed to have ever owned a tiny little gun, ala Nancy Reagan.

Over the past twenty years, as school and nightclub and concert shootings have escalated in our formerly peaceful country, I’ve watched and waited for action. My support for doing something about guns and gun killings in this country has been mostly passive..a lot of talk, contributions here and there, not much action, like most people who know in their hearts that it’s wrong to let anyone own a gun designed only to kill.

When Columbine (17 deaths) happened nearly 20 years ago, I thought: Now there will be action against assault rifles, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) will be ashamed and come to its senses and work with a grieving nation to make owning weapons a responsibility.

When Sandy Hook (26 deaths) happened five years ago, I thought: The deaths of 20 little grade schoolers and six teachers will surely bring this nation together about the dangers of assault rifles.

When 49 people were killed at the Pulse Nightclub in 2016, I thought: The gay community, with all its talent and knowledge, will do what needs to be done about assault rifles. After all, that community, in only a few years, had brought the nation around to the idea of gay marriage and rights for everyone on sexuality’s wide spectrum.

Seventeen dead. Twenty-six dead. Forty-nine dead.

And, then, the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting, Fifty-eight dead, 851 injured.

As the body counts mounted, surely a movement for rational gun control would rise up. Like most people, not brave enough to lead, I waited for someone else to start it.

A little over a month ago, it came. The other shoe finally dropped. And It was teenagers who put that foot down. Enough, they said. I wish I had their will, their guts, their savvy, their lack of fear, their desire to make lives matter, their righteousness in demanding that kids be secure in schools, that everyone be safe from slaughter with a gun designed not only to kill, but to mutilate. Those young people are not ripping up the Second Amendment and its NRA-inspired, court-interpreted OK of any-kind-of-gun ownership. They want sensible ownership of guns, not the NRA’s all-guns-all-the-time-for-everyone, even those whom most people would see as unfit to own a pocket knife, let alone a weapon of war.

Jack Lewis and Denise O’Brien donned their “March for Our Lives” T-shirts and paraded through the snow on N.Maple Street in Jefferson’s only March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24.

I gave up ownership of a tiny firearm more than half a century ago, because I thought about the consequences that little thing could have. I wasn’t giving up my Second Amendment rights. I was thinking about my life, my family’s life and our right, and the rights of my neighbors and friends and the strangers whose paths we crossed, to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, words in our Declaration of Independence that precede the second amendment (1791) by 15 years.

That’s why my husband Jack Lewis and I—just the two of us in the T-shirts we bought to support the movement started by Florida high school kids —staged our own March for Our Lives on Maple Street in Jefferson, Iowa, on Saturday, March 24, 2018. We paraded through the slush for our lives and your lives and the lives of our country’s young people.

Our tiny march was a tiny statement, but I was proud to finally do something to support what I have long believed: Guns designed for war have no place in the hands of civilians.

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