Human Rights

NY Rallies for Gun Control Legislation: 'History Cannot Reflect That We Allowed Sandy Hook to Happen and Did Nothing'

Tony Bennett and Al Sharpton joined a rally in Harlem to demand nationwide gun control legislation.

Mimagros Ortega stands next to NY city council member Robert Jackson while holding up a picture of her son, who was shot and killed two months ago.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Figueroa

Each time Milagros Ortega saw a city council member pass by her on Thursday at a rally against gun violence, she stopped them and held up the picture she was wearing around her neck.

“This is my son Francisco. He was shot and killed two months ago at the Queensbridge Houses. Please make other politicians pass gun control around the country,” she told politician after politician at a Harlem gathering to encourage other states to pass gun control legislation like New York’s recent SAFE Act.

The NY SAFE Act bans high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, requires universal background checks and works to keep guns out of the hands of certain mental patients. A firearm kills one person in the United States every 17 minutes. New York City had more than 13,000 gun violence incidents last year alone. And in the Bronx, where gun violence is most deadly, 50 deaths have occurred just since the beginning of the year.

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Speakers at the rally emphasized that as gun violence increases, they are increasingly going to pressure politicians to do something about it. In fact, they even called out the names of every politician who attended and noted that they’ll remember the support come election time.

Al Sharpton, who spoke at the event, said that the NRA doesn’t have the right to bring violence to communities:

There are those who are saying they have the right to bear guns over our right to live. The Second Amendment … doesn’t give you the right to bear any arms that you want. It doesn’t give you the right to have automatic weapons that could fire and fire and fire. It doesn’t give you the right to have magazines with 100 rounds … it doesn’t give you the right to have our grandmamas live in terror.

Music legend and activist Tony Bennett also attended the rally and emphasized Sharpton’s statement, saying, “We the people are stronger than the NRA.”

The executive director of the youth coalition “I Am Peace” urged parents to look into their children’s circle of friends and influences, and to have a conversation with them about gun violence, saying:

Good kids pull triggers … Those kids that are bullied get tired … When you say ‘not my kid.’ … Don’t go home and talkat your children. Go home and have a conversation about the violence that’s going on. Let them know you were here. And let them know what it felt like when you thought what it would be like if they were never, ever here again.

Darren Wagner, a former deputy sheriff in Ohio, also spoke at the rally. After seeing such an immense amount of gun violence as sheriff, Wagner moved to Australia for six years. Feeling like he needed to return home and concerned for his son, Wagner researched some of the safest cities nationwide. He decided on Newtown, Connecticut. Some of his son’s friends were killed during the Sandy Hook shooting. He said he’ll never forget the tragedy and will continue to push for gun control. He said:

I have to apologize to you New York, to Columbine, to Aurora. When these mass shootings happened, I did nothing. I did not send a card, I did not sign a petition, I stayed silent and I’m ashamed of myself for that … New York I’m here today with you, and I’m going to be in your corner from now on.

President of SEIU 1199 George Gresham echoed his sentiment, saying, “History cannot reflect that we allowed something like Sandy Hook to happen and we did nothing about it.”

Ortega said she will celebrate her son’s 28th birthday next week and will continue to push for gun control legislation.

“This has to stop. Too many children are dying from this, we have to really go to Congress and go to our President and have them enforce these strict laws,” she said. “’s our urban kids that are dying and it’s not fair. So it’s time to get justice for my son and for all the other kids.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates across the state of New York filed a lawsuit on Friday against NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and the SAFE Act, charging that the legislation violates the Second Amendment — and illustrating why rallies like these are important to keep up the energy to fight the battle against the powerful gun lobby. 

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.