By Arielle Robinson
About 200 Cobb parents, teachers, clergy, students, and other community members gathered in Marietta Square Saturday afternoon as part of larger March for Our Lives protests for gun control occurring in Georgia and around the country.
Cobb’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference hosted the rally, which turned into a march around the square.
The rally comes in light of multiple mass shootings across the United States that have occurred within the past few months — most recently, a shooting in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school where 19 children and two teachers were killed.
Cobb SCLC Field Director Rich Pellegrino told the Courier after the demonstration that the group would like to see a ban on assault weapons and for other common-sense gun safety legislation to be enacted by Congress.
“We want red flag laws, we want stricter background checks, universal background checks,” Pellegrino said. “We do want the [gun-owning] age raised to 21 and then we want some kind of licensing and testing for gun ownership that’s comparable to getting a license for a car.”
At the protest, Pellegrino said that more guns do not make the country safer. He connected gun violence to social problems that persist in American society.
“We know we need more mental health funding, we’ve got a mental health crisis in this country,” he said. “We know we need poverty reduction, we need homes for our people — all of these contribute to violence.”
Jennifer Susko, a former Cobb school counselor, said that gun measures should account for historically marginalized groups of students.
“Because when we talk about adding more guns to schools,” Susko said. “Black and brown kids, disabled kids, are often on the brunt of those policies, so we have to be intersectional and consider everybody.”
Susko also said that gun violence should not be conflated with mental illness.
“The data shows that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent,” she said. “The answer to a national problem with guns is not to stigmatize people with mental illnesses. The answer to a national problem with guns is not to increase access to guns. The answer is laws that promote safe gun storage… to track unlawful attempts to purchase firearms…No more delays. No more excuses. No more senseless deaths. No more.”
Two women from Moms Demand Action, a group of mothers, aunts, and other caregivers concerned about gun violence, urged the crowd to find their lawmakers who support gun safety and to vote for them this upcoming election season.
“We are not anti-gun,” Laura Page of Moms Demand Action said. “You can respect the Second Amendment, you can be a gun owner — you just should recognize that gun safety is an issue.”
Monica Brown of the Cobb County Democracy Center further connected guns to voting.
“It’s easier to own a gun in Georgia than it is for Black folks to vote,” Brown said.
Jessica Kalina, a Cobb teacher, tearfully said that teachers simply want to teach and that she is scared and exhausted.
“I want to show up to school every day and I want to instill a love of reading and writing in my students…That’s what I want to do,” Kalina said. “I don’t want to practice code red drills. I don’t want to think about where my students are going to hide if a shooter is in my school.
“And as a mother, I don’t want to think about what my children are wearing before they walk out the door in case I need to identify them, and I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but that’s what parents have to think about now.”
At a June 9 Cobb Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale provided an update on school safety protocols.
The Courier reported that:
“Many details of the Centegix CrisisAlert system will remain under wraps in the interest of safety, [Ragsdale] said. It operates similarly to the previous system it’s replacing, Alert Point, with push-button badges for staff to signal an emergency. He said he would not disclose specific timelines or protocols, but did share that it would be installed by Aug. 1.”
Cobb schools will have at least one annual unannounced code red drill that will not include a roleplaying intruder.
While Ragsdale said he would not arm teachers, he did not necessarily preclude arming other staff or recruiting retired law enforcement or military.
Concerns over school safety in Cobb are not new.
Some school board members and parents expressed concern last year when the school district’s Alert Point system was hacked. A false alarm went off that led some faculty and students to believe it was real.
Constituents who attended the June 9 meeting were not satisfied with Ragsdale’s latest school safety response and yelled from the audience at him. They demanded Ragsdale and other board members address their concerns as the meeting ended.
The group of mostly women, dressed in bright orange shirts, was instead met by police who gathered in front of them. No arrests were made.
At Saturday’s rally, a recent graduate of Lassiter High School in Marietta spoke during an open mic session at the end. She criticized politicians who simply say “thoughts and prayers” after national tragedies happen but do not take action.
“The first time I heard ‘thoughts and prayers’ was probably when I was 14 after the Parkland shooting,” Haley Benson said. “Then it was the Pulse nightclub, then it was Buffalo, then it was Uvalde. How many more times are we going to have to sit here and say ‘thoughts and prayers?’
“I do not want to have to do this when I’m 19, when I’m 20, when I’m 21. We have people in office who have the ability to make a change and we’re not seeing that. If this won’t do it — if children dying won’t do it — what will?”
On Sunday, a bipartisan group of US senators announced they have decided on a framework that aims to reduce gun violence, CNN reported.
In a statement, the senators said the legislation provides for mental health resources, improved school safety, and a strengthened review process for potential gun-owners under 21, among other objectives.
This announcement is significant, as gun reform legislation has often stalled in Congress despite countless mass shootings that have left scores of people dead and many more in mourning in recent years.
The 10 Republican senators supportive of the proposal would be enough to override the Senate filibuster.
The actual legislative text has not been written yet.
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She is the current president of the university’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and former editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records. She enjoys all kinds of music and reading poetry and non-fiction books.