With the sun making a rare appearance outside, the atmosphere inside the Rocky River United Methodist Church on Sunday was dark as Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley recounted the details and aftermath of 32 seconds of terror and death on Aug. 4, 2019 in her city.
In that time, a 24-year-old gunman with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a 100-round drum magazine killed nine people and wounded 27 others on a crowded street before being killed by police before outside a popular bar. The first shot rang out at 1:05 a.m.
Serving as the keynote speaker for the Power of Moms 2020, an event hosted by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Whaley’ made her message clear to the more than 120 people attending the speech: There needs to be changes in gun regulations and that change needs to happen now.
An impassioned Whaley drew from the city’s past for an analogy, referencing the Great Dayton Flood of 1913. “Today, a flood once again confronts our city,” she said. “But instead of rising waters, we face senseless violence.”
The two-hour event sought to bring about change by engaging the community and inspiring others to join efforts to reform gun laws.
Whaley shared the stage with eight other speakers, all of whom focused on the upcoming presidential election and candidates’ stands on gun reform.
“This was an opportunity to do something and get connected to get something done,” Liz Harmath, leader of the organization’s Cleveland chapter, said after the speech. “Our goal for the event was to get people to sign up for our programs and get involved and I think we did that.”
Mayor for seven years, Whaley heard about the shooting in the city’s Oregon Historic District after coming home from a friend's cookout. When she arrived on the scene the next morning, the smell of bleach wafted through the air as men in hazmat suits tried to remove blood from the concrete, she recalled.
A vigil was held that night where angry residents urged Gov. Mike DeWine to do something about gun violence in Ohio.
A few days later, she stood on the tarmac of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to greet President Donald Trump, there to visit hospitalized victims. Both she and Brown tried to persuade the president for smarter gun laws.
As a result of the shooting, Gov. DeWine introduced the “Strong Ohio Bill,” being considered by state lawmakers, which addresses mental health and guns. The bill also introduces a way for private gun sellers to conduct background checks. Whaley supports the law but is skeptical it will do enough.
A total of 16,374 people were killed by guns between 2007 and 2019 in Ohio. There’s been a 40% increase in firearm sales since 2007, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in July found that nine out of 10 Ohio residents support universal background checks during gun purchases. The poll also found that about 87% of gun owners in the state said they support universal background checks. Nationally, about 61% of Americans said they support stricter gun laws overall, according to a poll conducted by the university in May.
“Every mayor who goes through a tragedy like this hopes they’re the last,” Whaley said. “Unfortunately, I know that won’t be the case for me.”
“This is such an important issue going into 2020, it’s important to raise awareness about this,” said Lakewood resident Mary Beth Kohl, before the speech. “The Second Amendment is in conflict with our current lifestyle and I’d like to see that change.”
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was formed after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 27 people on Dec. 14, 2012. The organization’s founder, Shannon Watts, formed the group on Facebook the day after the shooting and it now has a chapter in every state.
Whaley finished her speech by returning to the Dayton flood analogy.
“For us in Dayton, the 1913 flood was probably the toughest year we’ve faced until 2019,” Whaley said in an interview after her speech. “For us, it’s a pivot. We got through the flood now we have to get through this.”
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