BRATTLEBORO — The perimeter of Pliny Park was lined with signs and people who showed their support for victims of gun violence.
Activists smiled and waved to people walking along Main Street and High Street Saturday afternoon, holding up signs that read, "Standing with Victims of Gun Violence," or that promoted Gun Sense Vermont, a group that seeks to keep firearms out of the "wrong hands." The coalition of Vermonters was founded by Ann Braden.
"For me, I come back to the survivors of gun violence and how they can't turn it off the way you can turn off news, and that trauma is always there," said Braden. "It comes to a point where I feel like we cannot let ourselves become numb and stay numb, we have to stay awake – as hard as it is – and dig deep into ourselves and find that place of resolve."
Braden said a vigil was necessary because Dec. 14 marks three years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members in Newtown, Conn. This will be the first anniversary to fall on a school day. Braden acknowledged that the media has made it very apparent of continuing trends of deaths caused by firearms, and she was hopeful that the vigil could be a time to honor those victims of gun violence.
"This is not 'I'm a hunter and I want my guns,' this is an issue of public safety," said Clai Lasher-Sommers of Westmorland, N.H., who was shot by her step-father when she was 13 years old. After the incident that occurred in 1970, she was admitted to Dartmouth Hospital, where she said no one reached out to her to talk about what happened. Since then, Lasher-Sommers has shared her story publicly, and been featured in Rolling Stone magazine. She also makes an effort to support victims of gun violence.
"Every holiday we think about spending time with our family, and anytime we get tired thinking about this issue, all you need to do is remember this – that there is an empty chair at somebody's table this year, and that's something that should make us go forward all the time," said Lasher-Sommers.
During the vigil, Braden noted the mass shooting that took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (EAME) Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. She said there was a group in Charleston that came together after the shooting that looked to Gun Sense Vermont as a model of how to approach reform.
"We're in a similar spot, they're in a state where guns are very important and it's not about keeping people away from guns if they are law abiding citizens; it's about making sure that guns are staying out of the wrong hands," said Braden. "And they are also a state where it's important for it to be a movement that comes from within the state, that it's not a national organization coming in."
Braden said that this past week, the group from South Carolina held a launch at the EAME church where they held banners that said, "Gun Sense South Carolina," and "Saving Lives, Preserving Rights."
"The ripples that we have started here, are still going out, and it's still being felt in other place where we can't even see," said Braden. "And I have to remember that the next time, because there will be another next time."
Words of advice that were made by Braden and other speakers at the vigil were to support not only victims of gun violence, but also lawmakers who have taken a stand on this issue. She acknowledged that it's easy to want to curl up and give up when faced with despair, but that people should gather together and speak about the topic and address it.
Cullen Parabis, an intern for Gun Sense Vermont and senior at Brattleboro Union High School, gathered his fellow students to help him make origami cranes earlier this month. At the vigil the cranes were hung on the Pliny Park holiday tree to honor victims of gun violence. One of the speakers noted that paper cranes are being hung in 50 states across the country for the same cause.
"It's an exceedingly obvious issue," said Parabis. "Mentally ill people and violent felons, should not have guns."
After the cranes were hung, some people dispersed and chatted, while a group at the vigil sang "This Little Light of Mine."
A group of Putney residents are organizing another vigil for next Saturday, Dec. 19, from 11 a.m. to noon in the center of Putney.