Waving signs and chanting “Never Again” and “Enough is Enough,” a couple hundred marchers took to the streets of downtown Minocqua on Saturday to protest assault-style rifles, school shootings and gun violence in general.
The march from St. Matthias Episcopal Church to Torpy Park coincided with Saturday’s March For Our Lives events across the nation, including the one in Washington, D.C., where an estimated 800,000 people heard speakers ranging from children to adults, and from citizens to celebrities, call for gun law reform.
The Northwoods Progressives group sponsored the local event with Kathy Noel of Sugar Camp doing much of the organizing. Noel is also active in Everytown for Gun Safety.
“I favor better background checks,” she said, “closing gun show loopholes. I get very nervous about the guns that are at gun shows, (and those offered as prizes at) raffles. I think that guns should be licensed like cars are licensed. We need to have a grip on our gun policies.”
A former teacher, she spoke for the need to support schools more. “It’s all about creating communities. Putting together an environment where kids feel safe, and where they can grow and learn.”
Noticeably absent from the Minocqua march, however, were those students. Indeed, one man wondered out loud at the onset of the march, “Where are the students?” Only a handful showed up, including two ninth graders from Lakeland Union High School.
“I just see this as a really important issue,” said LUHS student Annika Sedelis of gun control reform. “We need to take this into our hands and let people know that this is something we really support.”
“Take matters into your own hands,” agreed fellow freshman Xylina Graf, “because you never know what the situation you’re going to be in a couple of years from now, a day from now, anytime. This may be a small town, but it’s always best to be prepared and really fight for what you think should happen.”
Both do not support armed teachers, nor did they think teachers themselves want to carry guns in classrooms. Graf did favor adding metal detectors at schools, as it “could be a good step for a better future.”
A few people spoke to the crowd assembled at Torpy Park, with Bob Baker drawing applause for his recollections of an active-shooter drill at a Chicago school. He was there waiting to evaluate a program “that teaches kids how to belong and how to feel comfortable and how to treat each other with respect.”
Hustled into a kindergartener classroom when the 15-minute shooting drill commenced, he saw how the 14 young charges began to fidget after some minutes with the lights off and the door locked.
He said the teacher didn’t use the best words when she admonished the antsy youngsters: “You need to be quiet or you could to be shot in the face!” But the message was clear, he said: how horrific it is that young children have to be subjected to the fear of being shot while attending school.
“It’s not all about gun numbers,” he said. “My encouragement to all of us is, as we think about death and shooting, that we also think about the smaller, ongoing tragedy for our kids who go into a school with no other expectation that it’s a loving, caring, safe place. But they go into schools these days always in some part of their mind wondering whether if today is the day that the lights go off, that they have to shut up and be quiet, and hope someone doesn’t come through the door.
“That is the experience now we live with,” he concluded. “My encouragement, and what I hope all of us can do, is try to reframe how we think about and talk about the experience of gun violence. It’s not simply the number of kids who are killed. Not that horrible number. But all the kids, but all the teachers, but all of us who are affected by the ongoing trauma of living in an unsafe world.”
At Minocqua and at other rallies, the National Rifle Association, or NRA, was criticized for its unwavering support of gun rights, including the controversial AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles.
Enni Gregas of Bessemer, Mich., wore a sandwich-style sign calling for universal background checks, a waiting period before gun purchases, minimum age of 21 for buying firearms, and a ban on assault weapons, bump stocks that turn semi-automatic rifles into near automatic, large capacity ammo magazines, and the gun culture championed by the NRA and gun industry.
Eagle River resident Erin Olsen, who described himself a “reformed gun owner,” marched along with his wife, Phoebe Spier, and their 14-month daughter in a stroller, and Spier’s mother, Patricia Tucker. His reason for attending was to “make sure we have a safe community and a safe world for our daughter.”
Spier, a member of Northwoods Progressive, said she “came as a parent, as a Christian, and to support gun reform in this country and for keeping our kids safe.”
The demonstration was peaceful, not needing a police presence. No counter protest was mounted, although a man on a street corner raised his outer shirt revealing a printed t-shirt supporting gun rights as marchers passed by. No words were exchanged.