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Vigil staged at Brownells following Parkland shooting

The Reverend Wendy Abrahamson, along with others, protest at Brownells to raise awareness for gun control measures. Photo by Kelly Page.
The Reverend Wendy Abrahamson, along with others, protest at Brownells to raise awareness for gun control measures. Photo by Kelly Page.


The Reverend Wendy Abrahamson, along with others, protest at Brownells to raise awareness for gun control measures. Photo by Kelly Page.

Following the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, which left 17 dead and 14 wounded, a group of concerned Iowans congregated outside the Brownells firearm outlet to hold a vigil for the Parkland victims.

The vigil, which was coordinated by some of the same activists who organized the 26 Days of Action to End Gun Violence, was advertised online as “Local citizens in Grinnell […] planning to gather at Brownells to bear witness to the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, and … welcome others to join them. Brownells bills itself as the world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories and is headed by Pete Brownell, national President of the NRA. The tone of this action will be one of mourning.”

A group of people from Grinnell, Des Moines and other Iowa towns, some of whom were Grinnell College students and professors, stood in front of the Brownells facilities from 4 to 5 p.m. on Thursday. Many held signs and all discussed the Parkland shooting and the larger pattern of gun violence in the country, hoping to spread a message in favor of stronger gun safety in America. This vigil took place just two months after the 26 Days of Action Against Gun Violence which occurred in Grinnell in November and December of 2017, and also involved a procession to the gun facility.

Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, rector for St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Grinnell and an organizer of the vigil, spoke about the need to both mourn gun violence and take action for gun safety.

“I just don’t know what else to do,” Abrahamson said. “I feel like I wanna fall on the ground and weep, you know. And as fate would have it, the president of the NRA has a facility in this little town. And so I just feel compelled to stand here and say ‘please.’ Being here for me is an expression of grief. I think it’s pretty amazing that a lot of people feel compelled to be here. Asking legislators, reaching out to the president of the NRA, … there’s no response, and I think we’re at a point where we just have to weep.”

Abrahamson drew parallels to Bible passages connected to mourning and violence.

“I think about Rachel wailing and refusing to be comforted. I refuse to be comforted now. And throughout this whole thing I’ve thought a lot about Cain and Abel, and God says, ‘Where’s your brother,’ and Cain says, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and God says, ‘Your brother’s blood is crying up to me from the ground.’ I feel like blood is crying up to us from this ground here. It’s so shattering that this keeps happening and we have to just keep drawing attention to it.”

Abrahamson hopes that the government will pass laws that necessitate stronger requirements for gun ownership, such as background checks. She also hopes that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) will be able to investigate gun violence as a public health issue; Congress forced the organization to halt such research in 1996 due to pressure from the NRA.

Community member and mother Nicolene Junge spoke about her reasons for attending the vigil — she felt responsibility as a neighbor of the NRA president and as a mother of children going to school in Grinnell.

“As Grinnellians, we have a special responsibility because this is here in our own backyard. We need to have our voices be heard because this is our home and it’s also home to these things,” Junge said.

“It’s important to me because I’m a mom. There’s a lot of very, very scary places in the world. I moved from South Africa, I lived in a refugee camp, and I moved to America because ‘it’s safe’ and ‘it’s a nice place.’ I think about how I could send my children to school and then get a phone call from my son saying ‘Mom, there’s a shooting, what do I do,’ which is what parents heard from their kids yesterday, and what could I do? There’s nothing that I would be able to do and that doesn’t sit well with me and I know that doesn’t sit well with any other parent and even people who don’t have kids. Our fellow human beings are dying for no reason every single day and it has got to stop. It’s one thing when you send your son or daughter off to war and you get that phone call saying that your child is gone, but to get that phone call saying your five-year-old was shot in their classroom? That’s disgusting and everyone should just be revolted by it.”

The Brownells website features the same model of AR-15 rifle which was used in the Parkland shooting and instructions on how to build your own. While shootings happened on Wednesday, the NRA tweeted to “buy your loved one a gun.” The organization has remained silent about the shooting, but local activists are making sure to speak up as much as they can.

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    Sharyn ObsatzFeb 16, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    Thank you for keeping us alumni updated. We are horrified at Grinnell College’s friendship with the NRA president.