Hundreds of communities from Long Island to California will join together Sunday to host The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence.
The Beacon Theater in Manhattan will feature a star-studded show featuring Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Marc Cohn and Vy Higginsen’s Gospel Choir in Harlem. In Los Angeles, former Eagles guitarist Don Felder, Ryan Cabrera, Sam Harris of X Ambassadors and the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA will perform at the rooftop of the Standard Hotel. And on Long Island, there will be a concert co-sponsored by WCWP Radio and Word of Mouth Productions at Hillwood Recital Hall at LIU Post in Greenvale.
This nationwide concerted action was set in motion by Donna Dees, a New Yorker who had organized the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C., on Mother’s Day in 2000 following a shooting in Granada Hills, Calif. the year before at a community center. That march drew more than 750,000 people on the National Mall, along with coordinating protests in all 50 states.
Dees was prompted to take action again after Mayci Breaux, 21, and Jillian Johnson, 33, were shot watching Amy Schumer’s film Trainwreck at a movie theater in Lafayette, La., on July 23, 2015. A month later, TV news reporters Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, were gunned down in Roanoke, Va.
The shootings in Lafayette and Roanoke had a very personal connection to Dees. Lafayette was where she got her start as a young television reporter. To have two women shot in the back in that town while they were watching a film that Dees and her girlfriends and daughter were all planning to see together, along with the brutal shooting a month later of two young television reporters in Virginia, upset her to the core.
“My experience with these shootings is that people get outraged for a certain period of time, and the gun lobby just waits for their outrage to go away,” she explained. “Or the elected officials who don’t want to do anything just wait for the outrage to subside.”
Dees was inspired to write a piece for the Daily Beast that she called “How to Organize the Mother of All Protests,” which described in detail the steps she had taken to organize the Mother’s Day march in 2000. She proposed using social media—something unavailable back then—to launch a protest much larger than the first one, ideally culminating in a nationally televised fundraising event in D.C.’s Verizon Center. The cost, she wrote, would be about $3 million.
“Got $3 million burning a hole in your pocket? Call me. I’ll reserve the venue,” she wrote.
Alas, no one came forward with a generous check. But John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence in Boston, was very intrigued. He had prompted Massachusetts to enact comprehensive gun laws and impose tough consumer protection regulations for firearms. As a result, today Massachusetts is one of the top three states in the country with the lowest firearm fatality rate. After reading the Daily Beast piece, he contacted Dees.
“We can do this,” he told her. A friend of Jackson Browne, he spearheaded the concert, and, with support from Faith United to Prevent Gun Violence, helped put the protest together on a national level. Slowly, they began to help organize coordinated events to take place across the country on Sept. 25, which Congress has designated the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
“It was a fortuitous coincidence that the next day is the first presidential debate,” Dees told the Press. “Our immediate goal is to make sure the moderator of that debate, Lester Holt of NBC News, asks our candidates intelligent questions. We expect the media to be educated that the guns in states with strong gun laws come from other states. They come from Indiana and other places with weak laws… We need laws at the federal level, at the national level.”
Adam Schanke, organizer of the Long Island event at LIU Post, is a bass player in The Circuit, a Brooklyn-based psychedelic band. The Circuit, along with Sugar and Spice Band, David Bennett Cohen and Mirage Project are donating their time, energy and talents to raise funds for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“We want to show a sign of unity,” Schanke told the Press. “We want to show that we’re in support of rational thought.”
Schanke, 51, has never taken part in a protest against gun violence before, yet after the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, this July, he needed to do something. When he heard about The Concert Across America to Stop Gun Violence, he knew he had to get involved.
“I thought it was a good—no, it’s not even a good idea—it’s a necessary idea,” he said. “It’s necessary to have this in the forefront in an election year. It’s remarkable how dug in Congress is, and how much they’re backed by the NRA. There really doesn’t seem to be any real movement [on the issue].”
The event’s organizers hope to raise awareness nationwide about the issue, and how common sense reform can help cure America’s epidemic of gun violence.
On the federal level there are bills in the House and Senate that address universal background checks, both in private and commercial sales, as well as closing “The Terror Gap,” which entails expanding background checks to prevent those on the terrorist watch list who cannot board a plane from purchasing firearms. Legislation would also impose an assault weapons ban stronger than the one that expired in 2004. A bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would make gun trafficking a felony. At the moment, it’s a misdemeanor.
“So you get the same penalty for trafficking guns as you would if you were trafficking a chicken,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “So that needs to change.”
On its website, NYAGV has compiled a list of state representatives with a grading policy on how each politician rates on the gun issue. Their goal in this election is to educate voters on where their representatives stand and back candidates who not only support gun safety legislation, but actively work toward enacting it.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the state’s senior senator, has been an outspoken advocate for common sense gun reform laws. In his signature brash style, he threw his full support behind The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence.
“We have to right the wrongs in our background check system that let bad people plan and carry out despicable attacks,” he said in a press release. “Right now, a nefarious individual—someone suspected of planning a terrorist attack, tracked by the FBI, and on the terrorist watch list—can legally purchase a gun at a licensed dealer; this makes no sense! And, right now a person can walk into a gun show—and even if that person has a history of mental illness or a felony on their record—he or she can be legally sold a gun without any background check at all; this makes no sense!”
“The overall arching policy goal is that we demand from our elected officials universal background checks on every gun sold in America,” Dees told the Press. “We do not have that now. There are so many loopholes in the laws and they need to be closed up.”
Schanke is looking forward to performing at LIU Post. He believes this election is a tipping point in the gun violence prevention conversation and a call for action.
“You would think there would even be a knee-jerk reaction, and there just never is,” he says about politicians who stall gun legislation. “They offer their prayers and we wait for the next shooting.”
And that’s what this concerted action is hoping to end.