MISSOULA - Citing the statics around gun violence in America, the city and county of Missoula have declared June 2 National Gun Violence Awareness Day — a banner intended to draw attention to the dangers posed by firearms.
Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess said gun violence kills 120 Americans each day, while 70 women are shot to death by their intimate partners each month.
In Montana, he added, 228 people die at the end of a gun each year and 259 are wounded. The state ranks ninth in the nation for gun deaths per capita and third in the nation for gun suicides.
“Montana has been in the top five states for the highest rates of suicide for the last 40 years,” Hess said. “Suicide is the No. 1 preventable death for 10 to 14 year-olds, and LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers.”
June 2 emerged as National Gun Violence Awareness Day after the murder of a 15-year-old girl from Chicago. She marched in President Barack Obama's inaugural parade and, after returning home, she was shot to death on a Chicago playground.
Her friends began wearing orange on her June 2 birthday in her memory.
“It has now spread to a national movement to honor survivors and victims, and for communities like ours to stand together with everyone who believes we can and must solve the gun violence problem in America,” said Roxane Weikel of Missoula.
Weikel, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, said the movement to end gun violence is growing, and new laws are being passed in some states to help.
But Montana isn't one of them and while the City of Missoula tried several years ago to pass a mandatory background check for all gun transfers and sales, conservative lawmakers from the other side of the state intervened and blocked the measure from taking effect.
“Most of us have been impacted by gun violence,” said Weikel. “You may know one of the 228 Montanans who die on average every year. We're all aware of the horror of mass shootings and the fear when a Missoula neighborhood or school like Hellgate High School is put on lockdown.”
To those not familiar with America's gun culture, the current threat of mass shootings, school shootings and general gun violence is shocking.
Missoula City Council member Kristen Jordan, a duel citizen from Australia, moved to Montana six years ago with her two teenage daughters. One of them has since returned home — fearful of another school shooting.
“For children that don't grow up in this kind of environment, it's really shocking and confronting,” Jordan said. “My younger daughter moved back to Australia to finish high school because she was too scared to come to school in America. We can't provide a safe place for our children in school. It's a tragedy that we have a whole generation of children growing up knowing they need to be ready to get shot. It's completely unacceptable.”
Those behind National Gun Violence Awareness Day will hold a gathering on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn at 5:30 p.m. Other businesses have joined the cause including Rockin' Rudies and the Big Dipper, which has created a special orange ice cream to mark June 2.