Members of the Long Island chapter of Students Against Gun Violence, which was formed in the aftermath of the deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., to advocate for gun control, were joined by relatives of the victims of the shooting at a rally in Huntington on Sunday.
The theme of the event was voter registration, with the aim of creating what several speakers referred to as an “orange wave” at the ballot box in November, by electing leaders who would support what participants called “common-sense gun reform.”
Organizers estimated that about 550 people turned out on a hot, sunny day. Many in the crowd, and virtually all of the speakers, were dressed in orange, the chosen color of the gun violence awareness movement.
The rally was spearheaded by a group of young interns working in U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s office, including Paul Pedranghelu, who said that the congressman tasked them with organizing an event that would “bring awareness to the epidemic of gun violence.”
One of the organizers, Chase Serota, a 19-year-old from Brookville, a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, said that when he posted information about the rally to his social media accounts, friends and followers asked him, “Why now?”
“That’s the point,” Serota said. “Sadly, it’s kind of fallen off the national headlines. In August it’ll be six months.”
William Casale, a recent graduate of Glen Cove High School who helped organized Glen Cove’s March for Our Lives a month after the Parkland shooting, agreed. “This isn’t a sprint,” he said. “It’s a marathon.”
The organizers’ demands include universal background checks for gun purchases, preventing people who are on federal terrorist watch lists from buying guns and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“The biggest thing,” Casale said, “is reinforcing the idea that the upcoming midterm elections are going to be a really pivotal moment in this movement.”
Many of the speakers talked about rebutting the political influence of the National Rifle Association. Serota noted that the NRA’s membership — which it claimed in 2016 was about 5 million — was a fraction of the 30 million “young people,” as he loosely defined them, who would be eligible to vote in November. “How can we let 5 million people hold our entire country of 330 million — and our entire United States Congress — hostage?” he asked.
“If your vote didn’t matter,” Zoe Eisenstein, a high school student from Sea Cliff, told the crowd, “lobbyists like the NRA would not be spending billions of dollars trying to convince you who to vote for.”
There were personal appeals from relatives of some of those killed at Parkland’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February, including the mother and cousin of Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who grew up in Dix Hills and spent his summers as a counselor at Starlight Camp. Beigel was shot and killed while ushering students, who survived the attack, into a safe room.
“Scott’s heroism was his entire life, and he lived it until his final moments,” Beigel’s mother, Linda Beigel Schulman, said of her son. She spoke of the devastating impact the shooting had on her family, and noted that “it took three seconds for a 19-year-old to shoot Scott six times.”
She listed members of his family, and said, “Our lives will never be the same.”
As she spoke, two of Beigel’s younger relatives — a toddler and an infant — played quietly with a rally poster with a picture of Scott and cutout letters that read, “We miss you, Uncle Scotty” with the hashtags “#Hero” and “#NeverAgain.”
Lucy Peters, Beigel’s 17-year-old cousin, recounted the day of the shooting from her perspective — from hearing there was a shooting, to finding out that it was at her cousin’s school, to hearing nothing for hours while she sat with her family, watching the news and waiting for a call.
After quoting the Gettysburg Address, Peters asked the crowd to take action with their votes, adding, “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”