Suffolk County shines light on gun violence

Suffolk County shines light on gun violence

Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held a press conference in Hauppauge June 1 before the illumination of the H. Lee Dennison building to commemorate Gun Violence Awareness Day. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County is showing its support for a national movement using light.

On June 1, the H. Lee Dennison Suffolk County headquarters building in Hauppauge was illuminated in orange — the color adopted by activists working to reduce gun violence. The illumination will last until June 5 and began the night before Suffolk County’s Gun Violence Awareness Day. The event was designated to honor the lives of gun violence victims through legislation cosponsored by county legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

The H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge illuminated in orange to commemorate Gun Violence Awareness Day. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Before the initial illumination June 1, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America gathered in the building’s lobby for a press conference. Hahn said orange was chosen by high school students in Chicago in 2013 after their friend was murdered because they knew hunters wear orange to prevent being shot by others.

The legislator talked about the day of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 when she returned home after visiting with her daughter’s kindergarten class and heard the news. Hahn said the tragedy inspired her to author legislation requiring Suffolk County law enforcement agencies to cross reference the names and addresses of suspects transported to Stony Brook University’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program with the county’s pistol license registration. She said the bipartisan legislature unanimously passed the piece of legislation in 2013.

“There is no reason this country can’t have stronger laws,” she said. “We can have the 2nd Amendment, and we can have stronger laws that protect our children.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn addresses attendees at a Gun Violence Awareness Day event in Hauppauge June 1. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Moms Demand Action advocate Gemma Saylor discussed the importance of speaking up.

“We all have a voice, and we must use it,” she said. “We have a voice, and we can use it to provide comfort to grieving families. We have a voice, and we can use it to raise awareness about the enormous number of lives taken by gun violence every single year, every single day.”

Shenee Johnson, of Queens, and Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, were in attendance to share their stories of losing loved ones to gun violence. In 2010, Johnson’s 17-year-old son, Kedrick Morrow, was shot and killed at a party. She said while she feels it was once believed gun violence only happened in certain neighborhoods, unfortunately tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland have made Americans realize otherwise, and the victims’ families have become one in the fight against gun violence.

“We are the vanguards, we’re on the frontline, and we’re going to do everything we can,” she said, adding no parent should be fearful when dropping his or her child off at school.

“This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

— Paul Guttenberg

Guttenberg’s niece Jaime was killed during the Parkland shooting Feb. 14 when a shot from the killer’s AR-15 rifle severed her spinal cord. He detailed the depth of emotion he felt the day of the shooting. At first, Guttenberg said he had hoped his niece had left her phone in a backpack when he first received news his nephew arrived home safe and sound, but his brother and sister-in-law hadn’t heard from Jaime. Later that hope turned into despair when he received the news she was one of the victims who was fatally shot.

“How could this have happened,” he said. “I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

Guttenberg has spoken at a number of rallies on Long island, and his brother Fred, Jaime’s father, has become an activist for stricter gun legislation.

“Jaime’s murder is now a national tragedy, but for my family it is deeply personal and unsettling,“ Guttenberg said. “We are strong. We are resolute, and we will make Jaime’s memory a blessing.”