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Moms Demand Action panel discussion offers insights on gun violence

Members of Moms Demand Action are setting up the scene for its monthly event at the Clarence R. Kelly Community Center. The event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees can join on Zoom or in person. (Haohong Zhou/WUFT News)
Members of Moms Demand Action are setting up the scene for its monthly event at the Clarence R. Kelly Community Center. The event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees can join on Zoom or in person. (Haohong Zhou/WUFT News)

Resli Ward is no stranger to advocating against gun violence.

Five years ago, she and four other Gainesville teenagers shared their concerns with a Florida congressman.

But as she prepared her remarks this time, the University of Florida freshman grappled with the weight of the issue.

"When I think too hard about everything related to the gun violence epidemic," she said, "it starts to feel like I'm being swallowed by a black hole, and America is too."

Ward recently served as the youth representative on a panel discussion organized by Moms Demand Action, the Alachua County Council of PTAs, and the Greater Duval Neighborhood Association. The event, held on Saturday at the Clarence R. Kelly Community Center, brought together six participants via Zoom and 11 attendees in person, including School Board Member Diyonne McGraw and a representative from the River Phoenix Center for Peace Building.

McGraw said that the Board plans to hire a District Safety and School Security Chief who will meet the qualifications to be appointed as a school safety officer as mandated by state law.

This panel discussion was part of Moms Demand Action's ongoing efforts to raise awareness of gun violence and advocate for legislative changes.

Between 2015 and 2022, more than 300 children each year were unintentionally involved in shootings, according to Everytown For Gun Safety research. Those children injured themselves or others, due to their access to unlocked and loaded firearms.

According to Gainesville Police Department, shooting incidents including homicides have increased 15% this year in Gainesville.

"It's important for people to understand that Moms Demand Action isn't seeking to ban guns," said Susan Browder, an Everytown senior survivor fellow. "We simply want firearms to be used responsibly."

Browder said that gun violence has now surpassed other causes of death and is the leading cause of death among children. That position was previously held by car accidents. Many children and youth face traumatic experiences, either as survivors of violence or through the loss of loved ones within their communities.

Despite the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act's efforts, the first gun violence legislation in 30 years, there are still avenues for individuals to acquire firearms without undergoing background checks. This is commonly referred to as the "gun show loophole."

“There’s a lot of off-the-book guns sold at gun shows that don’t go through licensed dealers,” said Amanda Goldsmith, an integrative healthcare consultant and Everytown survivor fellow. “There’s a lot of one-on-one transactions that are unable to be caught on to.”

Moms Demand Action is advocating for intervention at both local and state levels. Their proposed measures include supporting red flag laws, which prevent individuals deemed dangerous to themselves or others from possessing firearms. They also mandate background checks for all gun sales and promote responsible firearm storage laws.

Speaking as a panelist, McGraw proposed a three-tier intervention method aimed at preventing school-related crime and violence. Her approach focuses on schoolwide education, counseling for students exhibiting behavioral problems, and intensive supervision and treatment for students with severe behavioral issues.

The impact of gun violence extends beyond physical harm to children. It also poses significant mental health challenges, said Kathleen Joseph, a licensed mental health counselor in Gainesville. “Healing takes time and is variable,” she said when discussing the process of healing trauma.

“When a child grows up in a chaotic and traumatizing environment,” she said, “they may not feel safe enough to say no. As a result, the child is not able to set boundaries effectively. Children may be more vulnerable because they are poorly resourced and have not had chances to practice that skill [of boundary setting]."

Ward, reflecting on her own experiences, emphasized that gun violence continues to affect young people even after they enter college.

"I remember late nights on Twitter following reports of gunshots at the University of Virginia and other schools last year, wondering if UF could be next," she said. "No kidding, the day I finished writing this speech, I received a Twitter notification that Morgan State University was experiencing that horror."

Moms Demand Action serves as a platform for diverse perspectives on the issue of gun violence and its impact on children and youth. To find out about local meetings held by Moms Demand Action, please text EVENTS to 64433.

Haohong is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing