Story and photo for The UpTake by Kathryn Nelson
Carlee Soto never imagined that her life would be affected by a random mass shooting. Until last Dec. 14 when her sister, Victoria Soto, was shot to death while protecting her first-grade students from a gunman who opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six teachers.
Speaking to a crowd in front of the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday, Soto said the “nightmare” that she and other relatives of the Sandy Hook victims are experiencing is why she is now advocating for tighter firearm restrictions.
Soto, local political figures, faith leaders, community members and prominent survivors of gun violence came together in Minneapolis Wednesday morning to campaign for tighter gun laws, including background checks for all gun sales. The rally was part of “No More Names: The National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence”, a 100-day bus stop campaign that is visiting 25 states. The project aims to increase political and community support for gun safety laws of the kind which failed to pass the Minnesota House and Senate his spring.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns bipartisan group that organized Wednesday’s event, agreed that background checks and other “common sense” gun laws are part of the solution to curbing gun violence in our nation. “Background checks are not a political issue. They are a universal issue,” he said.
Likening the introduction of universal firearm background checks to mandatory seat-belt laws, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said such measures wouldn’t stop most people from owning a gun but rather, would reduce the number of deaths in this country due to illegal firearms. “Now is the time to pass common sense gun laws in this country,” he said.
Sami Rahamim, son of murdered Accent Signage owner Reuven Rahamim, said local and national political leaders must “stand up for people like me and my family.” His father was one of six people shot and killed by an employee at the Minneapolis-based business in 2012. Sami Rahamim said that he and many other families around the United States are now facing “an empty seat at their dinner table” due to lenient gun laws.
John Souter was also at Accent Signage during that shooting, but survived. “Six of my friends and colleagues were senselessly murdered,” he said to the crowd. Souter said any members of Congress who fail to support stronger gun legislation are “way out of line.”
“I have one question for all members of Congress,” he said. “What prevents you from supporting a bill that requires background checks prior to persons being able to purchase semi-automatic weapons?”
Speakers at the rally praised Minnesota Democratic Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar for voting to support bipartisan background checks legislation last April. But because that bill ultimately failed, supporters said more pressure should be placed on other lawmakers, including Republican Representatives Erik Paulsen and John Kline, to pass such gun laws in the future.
“Senators Franken and Klobuchar stood with the people of Minnesota when they voted for comprehensive and enforceable background checks,” Coleman said in a statement. “It’s time for their colleagues in Congress to follow their leadership and stand up for common sense gun laws that will help save lives. We can no longer afford to ignore these very real issues –- the time for action is now.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 people are killed by firearms every day in the United States. Almost one Minnesotan dies and another is injured by a firearm every day in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.