By RYAN PFEIL
ASHLAND — One sign read, “No civilian needs an AK-47.” Another declared, “We can’t teach peace when teachers have guns.”
About 100 people organized by Southern Oregon’s chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control held these signs and others as they marched down Main Street to Ashland’s Lithia Park Saturday to voice their support for efforts to reduce gun violence in the U.S.
“I’ve never had as emotional a response to a news story as I had to that,” marcher Barret O’Brien said of the December massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. “It kind of paralyzed me in a way a news story never has.”
Shannon Watts, an Indiana mother of five, founded the Million Moms movement after the Sandy Hook shooting, according to the group’s website, and there are now more than 70 chapters nationwide. Marches took place Saturday across the country.
Local chapter members said they hope the Obama administration’s proposals aimed at curbing gun violence will pass. The group supports bans on automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, increased oversight on background checks, making it mandatory to report large sales of ammunition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and limiting the scope of concealed weapons laws.
“I believe in rights, but I also believe in reasonable exercise of those rights,” said marcher Charlotte Hadella.
Local chapter chairwoman Melissa Mitchell-Hooge, a mother of two teenagers, said action is needed to prevent future mass shootings.
“We should be able to send our children to schools without fear of them being shot,” Mitchell-Hooge said. “Same goes for movie theaters and shopping malls.”
She added that the Newtown incident crossed a line for her, so she had to speak up. When she recently came across the One Million Moms website, www.onemillionmomsforguncontrol.org, she decided to start a Southern Oregon chapter.
“For 20 children to be gunned down so savagely, it was just so heartbreaking,” she said.
As the Ashland marchers were voicing their opinions, a gun show was being held a few miles north at the Medford Armory on South Pacific Highway. Inside the armory, it was easy to find people who disagreed with the goals of the Million Moms group, saying an automatic weapons ban and gun-control legislation won’t mean a reduction in gun violence.
“I do not think that is the answer,” said Wes Knodel, owner of Wes Knodel Gunshows, the Salem company that hosted the gun and knife show at the armory. “I don’t think that’s even close to the answer.”
Knodel said he’s in favor of putting armed guards in schools and standardizing background checks nationwide, which he said would deter felons from purchasing firearms.
Mark Daley, a gun collector, said most gun owners are law-abiding people, and increased regulation is not a solution.
“It’s already been proven it doesn’t work,” Daley said.
Personal responsibility on the part of conscientious gun owners is part of the solution, Daley said, including making sure weapons are locked up and secured.
At the end of their march, the Million Moms group gathered in a circle in Lithia Park and took turns speaking about what they believe should be done to stop mass shootings.
A lone male, who declined to be interviewed, stood across the street with two firearms and a sign that said “… Shall not be infringed.” He left after a few minutes.
Some of the march organizers said they are hopeful that changes to national gun policy are on the way, but they concede there’s a long way to go.
“This is going to be an uphill battle,” said group co-chair Linda Loenneker. “We’re going to have to keep at this.”
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.