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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Moms Group Finds COVID-Safe Ways To Spread Gun Violence Prevention Message

Karen speaks
Jeff Smudde
Karen Irvin from McLean County's Moms Demand Action chapter speaks at the June 2019 "Wear Orange" event at Anderson Park in Normal.

A local group focused on responsible gun ownership and stopping gun violence is getting creative to spread its message in the face of COVID-19 and demonstrations over racial injustice.

The McLean County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is hosting several events this week—virtually, of course—to mark Friday’s National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend on Saturday and Sunday. The color orange has become a symbol of the gun-violence prevention movement—a nod to Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton’s fatal shooting in 2013.

The events come as McLean County grapples with two other epidemics—the coronavirus, and unrest tied to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

“There is an awareness of what's a priority right now for our community, and trying to handle the issues that are affecting us the most,” said Karen Irvin, a leader of the Moms Demand Action chapter. “But gun violence is underneath all of that. When we talk about the communities that are most affected by (COVID-19 or police-community relations), they’re also disproportionately impacted by gun violence. So there is an interconnection there.”

There is anecdotal evidence the coronavirus has exacerbated gun violence in the U.S. at a time when typical intervention programs are not operating at full capacity. Domestic violence is on the rise. Isolation and financial challenges may lead others to suicide. And more children are spending time at home, potentially increasing the odds they’ll stumble across an unsecured, loaded weapon. An 8-year-old boy, for example, was killed in an accidental shooting in May in Peoria.

“We’re very, very concerned about that,” Irvin said.

Last June, around 200 people attended a Wear Orange event at Anderson Park in Normal. With social-distancing measures in place, McLean County Moms Demand Action will host two Be SMART presentations virtually, at 7 p.m. Thursday and at noon Friday, focused largely on safe storage of guns. Those wishing to join the presentations should contact WO2020BeSMART@gmail.com.

“Be Smart is common ground,” said Sheri Strohl, Be SMART lead for McLean County Moms Demand Action. “Guns are a polarizing issue. But it doesn’t matter what you believe in terms of the legality of guns and high-capacity magazines or any other thing. Everybody can agree that children shouldn’t have unauthorized, unsupervised access to loaded guns. And even that seems like such a simple thing, yet so many people have loaded guns that are not secured in their home.”

On Saturday, the Moms group is encouraging individuals and community partners to deck their porches, front steps, and driveways with orange to raise awareness of daily gun violence and support survivors whose lives have been impacted. Again, contact WO2020BeSMART@gmail.com if you’re interested.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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