They came not to stand for their cause, but to lie. One by one, 32 men, women and children took their places on the cold concrete in front of the Morgan Library, each to the toll of a bell. There they lay for three minutes, the time they say it took the young man at Virginia Tech to purchase the guns he used to kill 32 fellow students a year ago.
“We’re here to pause and remember and pay tribute to the victims and their families,” said event organizer Toni Zimmerman, a human development and family studies professor and a Virginia Tech alumnus.
Organized by “Protest Easy Guns,” the event was one of 80 such protests in communities across the country on the one-year anniversary of the shootings at V-tech.
“Protest Easy Guns” was started by 32 women in Alexandria, Virginia, who organized a civil protest following the shootings. According to their Web site, “It is too easy to purchase guns in America.”
But other students disagreed with the protestors.
“That’s actually false,” said CSU alumnus Tim Bessler, of the group’s premise that the shooter obtained the guns in three minutes.
“He had to wait 30 days to buy both hand guns,” Bessler said.
Bessler held a small sign advocating protesteasygunslies.com. He said he came to the event “to provide an alternative point of view.”
Since the shootings at V-tech, Bessler said, the Governor of Virginia has “made it so that mental health rulings are submitted to databases,” thus closing the loophole that allowed the shooter, who had been treated for mental illness, to purchase guns.
He also acknowledged that not all states comply with the current system, which is meant to prevent those with a history of mental illness from purchasing guns.
“The system is a good idea, but it doesn’t always work,” Bessler said.
“I am fully aware that this is a complex issue,” said organizer Tom Vosburg, a Fort Collins resident. “But how do we respond to these kinds of senseless events?”
Keri Elizabeth, a tourism major, stopped to watch as each person took a place on the ground. She said it was unfortunate that more people didn’t know this was going on.
“This is powerful because actions speak louder than words,” Elizabeth said. “But I feel there needs to be a step afterwards to get people to follow through.”
Bessler said the problem lies not with gun ownership, but with the mental health system, which should do a better job of treating and screening people who might do harm.
“Violence is unfortunate,” Bessler said. “But people have been killing each other for thousands of years. A gun is just more of a high tech way of doing it.”
Before and after the event Vosburg and Zimmerman encouraged members of the CSU and Fort Collins communities to reach out to others. They said congress and concerned citizens should “keep asking the hard questions about what will keep us safe.”
“As a community we cannot all become numb,” Vosburg said. “There have been 33 school shootings since V-tech. A balance has to be struck.”
Staff writer Shari Blackman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.