HOULTON, Maine — Two days before the Monday afternoon fatal shooting at a Nashville elementary school, a group of 10 Aroostook County residents stood near the Houlton Peace Pole in Monument Park calling for the ban of assault weapons in the U.S.
Marking the fifth anniversary of the March for Our Lives, the Houlton group said they were standing in solidarity with the students who survived the 2018 mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
On Valentine’s Day five years ago, the Parkland shooter, armed with an AR-15 assault weapon, killed 17 students and teachers and injured another 17. Still, despite some strides in new gun violence legislation, assault weapons and large ammunition magazines — holding more than 10 rounds — remain on the streets, said the organizers of Saturday’s Houlton vigil.
Houlton resident Marilyn Roper, 87, who organized Saturday’s event at Monument Park, talked about her great-grandchild who is about to start preschool.
“They are teaching them about going into a closet to hide,” she said, adding that she has other great-grandchildren now in school. “It’s awful our children have to endure that kind of thing.”
In 2018, one month after the gunman sprayed the Florida high school with multiple rounds of ammunition, several surviving students organized the March for Our Lives, a peaceful public witness against gun violence and assault weapons in Washington, D.C.
Groups from around the world joined the student-organized march, including Roper with about 30 others in Houlton. Roper said she still had her large “Ban Assault Weapons” sign from 2018.
Five years ago and again on Saturday, the County group again bore witness to the assault weapon issue that Roper said is only growing worse.
“There was a federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and it has not been reinstated,” she said. “We are hoping it will be reinstated.”
On Monday, a shooter allegedly armed with two assault weapons fatally shot three young students and three staff members at an elementary school in Nashville, according to the Associated Press. President Joe Biden on Monday called for a ban on assault weapons.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart,” Biden said at the White House. “I call on Congress again to pass my assault weapons ban.”
The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Act, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 banned the sale, manufacture or transfer of semi-automatic weapons and large magazines. Nonetheless, a grandfather clause allowed individuals to keep already owned assault weapons.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, by University of Massachusetts scientist Louis Klarevas, the number of gun massacres dropped 37 percent during the ban and since the ban expired there was a 239 percent increase in gun massacre deaths.
“We are trying to do our tiny part for this awful tragedy that keeps happening,” Roper said.