When Columbia residents gathered Thursday to mourn victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Libbie Poole had a personal stake in honoring those affected by gun violence.
“I was shot when I was 3 years old,” Poole said, recalling the day her 4-year-old cousin accidentally shot her while playing with a gun the youngsters believed was unloaded.
“Fortunately, my parents got me to the hospital, or I would have bled to death,” she said.
Four days after the Las Vegas shooting left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, Poole joined about 20 others at Reformation Lutheran Church to pray for the victims – and discuss what can be done to stop something like Las Vegas from happening again.
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Reformation pastor Tim Bupp organized the vigil because, he said, he felt the need to “do something,” and didn’t sympathize with the argument that the aftermath of a mass shooting isn’t the time to discuss solutions to gun violence.
“Yes, emotions are raw, but that’s sometimes when the best conversations take place,” Bupp said.
The names of the shooting’s 58 victims – minus the shooter himself – were read from Reformation’s pulpit, while the church bells chimed and 58 candles were lit in the sanctuary.
But the service was focused not only on remembrance, but on what can be done to stop future shootings.
Sylvie Dessua with the pro-gun control group Moms Demand Action said the public’s attention should be not only on mass shootings like Las Vegas but daily gun violence across America. Just this week, she said, a 6-year-old boy in Timmonsville brought a loaded gun to school.
She called for opposition to any further loosening of gun laws, mentioning specifically a proposal from U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, to make it easier to buy noise suppressors for firearms. “I don’t want to think how much worse (the Las Vegas shootings) would have been if those people could not hear the shots, or where they were coming from,” Dessua said.
Moms Demand Action will hold their own vigil for Las Vegas and “all victims of gun violence” at 4 p.m. Saturday at the State House.
Sean Carrigan, an Army veteran running against U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, said conversations need to be had with supporters of the NRA – which he said “looks more and more like a terrorist organization” – that gun policy needs to change. He pointed to Australia, which passed strict gun laws after a 1996 mass shooting.
“Today, Australia has 1.4 gun deaths per million, while America has 30 per million,” Carrigan said.
Bupp followed up by saying that in Australia, “the politicians who did that lost their jobs.
“Not many of our career politicians are willing to do that,” he said.
He said instead, changing gun laws will require grassroots action.
Poole was prepared to take that up. She said she would attend rallies, write her representatives and vote on gun issues.
“It’s evil that causes people to use guns to settle their disputes,” she said. “That’s not God’s way.”
But does Poole believe Las Vegas will lead to real action on guns? “You can always hope,” she said.