Santa Rosans rally for gun control

They had no set agenda, not much planning, not even obvious talking points, unless it was a single word: Enough.

But the nearly 200 parents, teachers, kids and public officials who gathered Monday at Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa were united among themselves amid a rising chorus of American voices calling for action on federal gun control in the wake of last week’s Florida school shooting.

Surrounded by children carrying homemade placards calling for gun-free schools, with lots of brightly colored hearts, participants in a noon rally said they were there because of rising grief and disgust over children paying the price for adult inaction on gun control amid an epidemic of campus shootings.

“I’m tired of hearing speeches about this,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey told them. “We need to stand up, and we need to act.”

Hastily organized by Michelle Gervais of Santa Rosa, mother to 9-year-old twins and a longtime community volunteer, the “rally for children’s safety” came in response to last week’s Valentine’s Day slaying of 17 students and teachers at a South Florida high school by a former student armed with an AR-15 rifle.

Participants observed a moment of silence for the victims and applauded the young survivors who have called for gun control action since their classmates’ deaths.

“I think we can all agree no child should be scared to go to school because of gun violence,” state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said. “This crisis doesn’t happen in any other country in the western world.”

In an age where dozens of American students have been killed in campus massacres and other mass shootings, Gervais said two videos moved her to step into the fray: one, a grim video shot by a student hiding amid the gunfire last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the other, from a surviving student who called on adults to be accountable.

“I felt like, ‘What wouldn’t I do?’ ”Gervais said Monday. “What would I not do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

She decided at lunch Thursday to hold the rally featuring posters, postcards to sign and hand-painted banners to send to Congress, calling for a rational discussion on gun control.

She said she hoped it was the first of many local efforts to voice support for children’s safety and effective limits on access to powerful weapons unimaginable when the right to bear arms was included in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And, like others, she called for voters to oust lawmakers who refused to face down the powerful gun lobby.

It isn’t merely the students killed in campus shootings during the past two decades, but the 150,000 students exposed to gun violence and traumatized during those incidents - nearly as many kids as people who live in Santa Rosa, Gervais said.

Many teachers in attendance pointed also to the unavoidable impacts on millions of school children required to endure routine drills in which they pull the classroom shades, find a place to hide and silence themselves to practice for the prospect of an active shooter on campus.

“For me, it is close to home,” said Liz Graziani, a fifth-grade teacher at Biella Elementary School and a mother of two, said.

“For me it’s not just politics. It’s something I could potentially face at some point.

“You hope it never happens here, but at the same time, you have to prepare. You have to explain why you do the drill, which is hard.”

Denise Ybarra, a first-grade teacher at Evergreen Elementary School in Rohnert Park, carried a sign saying, “I want to be a hero for teaching kids to read, not for taking a bullet.”

Another Evergreen staffer, first-grade teacher Mandy Hilliard, talked about setting up classrooms with an eye toward furniture that could be used as a barricade or hiding place, and contemplating scenarios that would call for having her students hide or run.

Speaking of lawmakers, she said, “I would love for all of them to see 23 6-year-olds hunkering down, practicing for what to do when a bad man comes on campus.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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