A crowd of 60 to 75 people at a rally put on Saturday by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America at Mercy Park in Joplin chanted emotionally “We remember them” in reference to those who have lost their lives to gun violence in the United States.

Missouri has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the country with an average death rate of 21.5 per 100,000 people, according to 2017 firearm mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The local rally was conducted in partnership with the Springfield group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots movement aimed at fighting and raising awareness for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. Moms Demand Action, which was formed in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, now has chapters in all 50 states and nearly 6 million supporters, according to its website.

Missouri is a permitless carry state, which means individuals 19 and older can legally possess a firearm with or without a concealed carry permit. Neither background checks nor firearm registration are required when purchasing a handgun from a private individual.

Amanda Dickerson, local group leader with Moms Demand Action, said that the state’s gun laws have been made more and more lenient over the years.

“In 2008, we had (an average death rate of) 14, which gives us a rise of 55% over 10 years," she said. "That’s not OK. That’s why we’re here. The lowest states with gun violence have a death rate of 2 to 5 (people) compared to Missouri’s 21.5.”

The two Missouri groups were one of many Moms Demand Action advocates nationwide to hold an August Recess Rally this weekend encouraging the U.S. Senate to pass tougher gun legislation such as background checks on all gun sales and red flag laws. The rally comes shortly after two back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that killed more than 30 people and injured dozens more.

Dickerson said she started the Joplin group in January 2018 after the mass shooting in Las Vegas where a gunman open fired on a crowd at a music festival, killing 58 people and wounding 422 in 2017. A pediatrician and a mother, Dickerson said she believes that stricter background checks and red flag laws allowing the seizure of weapons in certain cases help save lives.

“Background checks should be a no-brainer,” she said. “We should run background checks on everybody who wants to buy a firearm. The red flag laws just give law enforcement another tool to use in order to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

Lillian Towe, 17, a senior at Carthage High School, shared a heartfelt story of how the recent mass shootings are affecting the younger generation and how it’s becoming the new normal.

“I think it’s a very, very sad thing that a defining part of what it’s like to grow up in my generation is gun violence, is the fear of mass shootings,” Towe said to the crowd. “It’s exhausting to think about death every time that you walk into a classroom. It’s exhausting to us as young people that it has become our responsibility to try and fix the world, while we’re still in many ways naïve in trying to figure it all out.”

Jean Knapp, local volunteer lead with Springfield’s Moms Demand Action, said that group was formed in the summer of 2016 after the St. Louis organization wanted to take action in more rural areas. At the rally, Knapp said the members were here to remind Missouri's U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, both Republicans, that they work for the people and if gun laws aren't changed, they will be voted out.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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