On Saturday, February 6th, 2021, Virginia Delegate and candidate for Lt. Governor of VA , Hala Ayala, hosted a Survivors of Gun Violence Awareness panel, via Zoom, LIVE on Facebook. The event was made public for anyone to join in and watch, “Delegate Hala Ayala Presents: National Gun Violence Survivors Week Roundtable.”
About 20 or so gun control activists were included, including members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America as well as Lori Haas of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. There was also myself and two other gun rights activists who happened to be “allowed” in.
If you’re a gun rights activist in VA and don’t know who Lori Haas is… you should. Lori found her role in gun control activism back when her daughter, Emily, attended VA Tech in 2007. In April of that year, a deranged gunman opened fire within the campus, killing 32 and wounding 17, including Emily- who sustained two gunshot wounds and lived. VA Tech, like most schools, from preschool to universities, are Gun Free Zones. Since that day, Lori’s mission has been to make sure that not another person would fall victim to gun violence again, especially in Virginia. She is now the Virginia State Director for The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), the only paid gun control lobbyist in the state of Virginia, and on June 9th, 2020, Governor of VA , Ralph Northam, appointed Haas to the Virginia Crime Commission.
She is Virginia’s very own, Shannon Watts (founder of Moms Demand Action).
Alongside Haas, several other prominent names were present including Sheriff Alisa Gregory of Henrico County, Dr. Jeffrey Feld of Virginia Beach, as well as several Virginia Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America members, such as Karen Havekost– a survivor of the 2019 VA Beach “Building 2” shooting.
Sheriff Gregory was one of the first speakers on this panel, telling a very personal story about her brother, who is a survivor of gun violence. His story, as well as violence in general, is one of the reasons why she went into law enforcement in the first place. After the Sheriff shared her experience (which came across un-biased), Lori Haas shared hers, recounting what happened to her daughter back in 2007. It was then, that the “activism” started, as Lori explained her many positions for gun control.
Haas’ intro opened the flood gates, and it was a domino effect of Moms Demand Action members explaining their reasons for joining their local chapters. However, not a single Moms Demand Action member who spoke on the National Gun Violence Survivors Week Roundtable, hosted by Delegate Hala Ayala, was a gun violence survivor.
Actually, not a single Moms Demand Action member who spoke was even a survivor of ANY kind of violence.
Each Moms Demand Action member who spoke even admitted that they had no story of survival to tell. I found this puzzling, because, I am very open about the fact that I am a gun rights activist, and like them, I too have no real survival story to tell. It’s the stories of actual survivors where I find my motivation to fight for the 2nd Amendment, as well as being on that Zoom call in the first place. I stepped out more publicly as a gun rights activist because I wanted to help tell those stories of survival. Yet, in today’s society, I am considered an “extremist”, or as they condescendingly described us gun rights activists during this call, “part of the OTHER side.”
During something like a National Gun Violence Survivors Roundtable… I expected more SURVIVORS to actually speak. This is when I, and my fellow gun rights activists… those of us on “the other side…” became vocal. We recognized this Zoom event as nothing more than an advertisement for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and gun control in general.
I was unable to unmute myself, and my attempt at the “hand raise” option to speak, was ignored. That’s when I took it to the chat room, with my other two gun rights pals. In this little arena, it was mostly those on the call sending applause and praise to those who were speaking. One of my pals was also chatting and explaining her position as a gun rights activist… because she is an ACTUAL SURVIVOR OF VIOLENCE. As the feed kept jumping due to each chatter texting, I asked one simple question in the forum,
“I am “the other side” and married to a safety professional, as well as the daughter of a former VA LEO, so where is the actual Gun Safety education within these GUN CONTROL laws? I am just a mom.”
I felt it only right to explain my position as “the other side,” because of the fact that I shared the whole, “not having a story” thing with several of the Moms Demand Action speakers. A Virginia chapter Moms Demand Action member, Mel Cornelisse, although NOT answering my actual question, responded to me directly,
“Hi Jill- welcome. All of us who want better gun safety laws and believe we need to end gun violence are on the same side. Isn’t it crazy to think there’s opposition. Come join your local MOMS group. Lots of us are gun owners, lots of us aren’t- we all want the same things- for our families and loved ones to be safe. Not one more.”
That is when I responded back to she/ her, in kind,
“I am the VA State Director for The DC Project: Women for Gun Rights as well as the East Coast Lead for 1Million Moms AGAINST Gun Control… I too, believe, Not One More, but would I even be welcome to your meetings to discuss actual Gun Safety Education? Sincerely.”
I never received an answer back.
Delegate Hala Ayala, in her opening statement, as she greeted folks to the event, said that this roundtable was one where “ALL” could come together and speak on this matter. She just asked that we remained respectful of one another, and especially the survivors present. Myself and my other gun rights pals did just that (I have the screenshots). We spoke up and remained respectful of those included, all while explaining our positions and asking relevant questions. After one of my comrades texted the Universal Gun Safety Rules into the chat, she and our other gun rights pal were booted from the call. Yes, actual gun safety got her removed from an event supposedly about gun safety.
During this time of chat room fiascos, another speaker by the name of Shana Turner came through my headset. I didn’t catch the earlier part of her story, due to her connection going in and out, but Turner is the founder of the group, HR Mask: Hampton Roads Movement Against Senseless Killings, an advocacy that she founded after the death of her youngest son, Shaquille T.
Shaquille was killed during what police report as a murder-suicide, back in 2017 in Norfolk, VA, when he and another man, Dwight Walker, Jr., got into an altercation. Walker shot Shaquille then turned the gun on himself. Shana and her family still have a lot of questions concerning her son’s death, and her mission until she gets those answers, is to help mentor children and families in her area. It’s actually a very noble cause that she has going, compared to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Considering that Shana has so many questions as to “WHY” her son became the victim of gun violence in the first place, it is concerning that she depends on groups like Moms Demand Action to get her message across, rather than reaching out to a gun rights Organization- where “we” actually work to educate others on the very thing she wants to eliminate in society; gun violence. And because she wants to bring awareness to PTSD issues that tragedy tends to instill in survivors, partnering with groups like gun safety professionals (instructors, defense leagues, etc…) would actually open more doors to her cause, because those of us who deal with PTSD issues are in turn working with others in our own communities to successfully overcome.
The Zoom roundtable call was slowly coming to an end. Delegate Hala Ayala presented her closing statement and included that if anyone who was present on the call had a cause or organization that they’d like to link, to please do so in the chat. That’s when members of Moms Demand Action showed their true colors. Without harping on anything “gun rights,” I humbly texted into the chat my two advocacy links… www.dcproject.info and 1MMAGC.org.
Within seconds of me hitting send into the chat, a Virginia Moms Demand Action member, Meagan Hang (@meaghang) responded to me directly with, “you’re so pathetic.”
Granted, I get this type of thing often from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America members. Instead of having a civil and open conversation, either my questions are ignored, I’m blocked, or I’m belittled. You’d think that someone who advocates for things like “gun safety,” all for the sake of keeping people safe from gun violence, would know better than to insult a supposed gun “extremist.” I mean, that doesn’t even make sense. I’m supposed to be the one lashing out calling people pathetic at random, right? (Cause I’m so-called “extreme” and stuff.)
If I’m afraid and allergic to bees, why the heck would I poke a nest with a stick? Fortunately, I carry an EpiPen around for interactions with bees (and members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America), but what I find even more concerning than Meagan’s intolerance is that there is no way for the public to view this public National Gun Violence Survivors Week Roundtable hosted by Delegate Hala Ayala anymore. In my several screenshots from the actual meeting, I took note that the event was being recorded, but if you want to go back and catch the replay, tough luck. Since the event was also shared through Facebook Live, you could go to Delegate Hala Ayala’s campaign page and catch it there, but now even the post for it has been deleted. WHY?
Anyway. Other than a few technical difficulties, lack of subject matter, and the bias displayed in the chat room, the meeting was very informative, especially for us on “the other side.”
As I said to the chat room as Delegate Hala Ayala closed the Zoom, “Thanks for the open forum.”
It came in handy.