By Maggie Lee
The giant red cardboard letters spelling the word “moms” stood out in the gray Atlanta drizzle Wednesday, held up between the state Capitol and more than one thousand people rallying outside, demanding that the lawmakers inside tighten up gun laws.
Among the rally was mom Julvonnia McDowell, whose 14-year-old son JaJuan was shot and killed by a teen playing with a gun.
“I see so many survivors,” said McDowell, intensity straining her voice as it crackled through a bullhorn.
“As survivors we don’t get to hit restart, we don’t get to hit pause or get to do a do-over. Our lives change instantly and I’m speaking out because it’s time for action. We must demand our lawmakers do more to end this uniquely American issue because our lives and those of our children are worth fighting for,” she said, as the crowd started cheering.
The rally is an annual event, organized by Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, part of Everytown for Gun Safety; both are nonprofits. But this year it fell a week after 17 children were shot and killed by a confessed gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Hours after the Atlanta rally, President Donald Trump would hold a “listening session” with students and families affected by school shootings, as yet another school massacre led to more calls for tighter gun laws.
Dunwoody resident and University of Georgia student Mallory Harris was 3 years old when Columbine happened, part of a generation that grew up knowing of school shootings. She’s been a student organizer against college campus carry in Georgia. She brought more than 100 postcards from students of all ages to the Atlanta rally, all in support of what Moms and Everytown are trying to do.
“This is very directly affecting us, we don’t want to see any more of our peers slaughtered,” Harris said.
But in the last few years, the most high-profile gun legislation in Georgia has expanded the number of places where people can carry weapons: houses of worship, bars, and parts of college campuses.
The Moms and Everytown groups broadly seek what they call “common-sense” gun laws to end gun violence.
Specifically in Georgia, there are a few things on their agenda. They’re against so-called “permitless” carry bills. Several bills have been filed here and have appeared in other states, some of which have passed them. Broadly, permitless carry means that a person wouldn’t need a permit to carry a gun, though it would still not be lawful for, say, felons, or other people prohibited by law, to carry guns.
Such bills have been filed in Georgia at least as far back as 2015, but have not moved far in the legislative process. Everytown activists argue that permitless carry blocks judges from denying permits to people who have a red flag in their history, like domestic violence or serious mental illness.
Everytown also argues for banning convicted domestic abusers from getting guns, and for banning so-called “bump stocks,” a gun accessory that allows a semiautomatic firearm to fire more quickly than a human could fire it.
Trump has said he’s in favor of a bump stock ban.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, was among the lawmakers who came out to the Atlanta rally. Over her career, she’s filed bills proposing banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets. She’s also the author of the proposed bump stock ban.
“The world is changing when Donald Trump and Mary Margaret Oliver agree on bump stocks,” she said. “We’re making progress, even in Georgia.”
Oliver said she does think some bills to tighten gun laws could pass. Specifically, she mentioned House Bill 541, which would ban convicted domestic abusers from having a gun. And HB 657, that takes it from a misdemeanor to a felony to act as a “straw man” gun buyer, someone who knowingly buys a gun for a convicted felon.
“We need this kind of pressure and we also need a specific focus on the bills that should pass, like protecting domestic violence victims and the straw man,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things in Georgia we can accomplish and it will build on this,” she said, pointing at the crowd.