A Message from the President of Americans Against Gun Violence
I’ve been working in one way or another on the issue of gun violence prevention for much of my adult life – ever since 1969, that is, when I returned from serving in combat as a member of the U.S. Marines in the war in Vietnam. Having just left a war zone, I didn’t want to permanently live in one.
In all the years that I’ve worked on the gun violence issue, I’ve never met anyone who’s endured a greater personal loss than Dr. Michael North suffered as a result of the mass shooting at the elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996; or anyone who’s subsequently done more to ensure that no one else in in his country – and especially, no child, no parent, and no teacher – will ever have to endure a similar tragedy.
We’re bringing Dr. North to the United States this fall to speak at our annual dinner on the topic, “Gun Control in Great Britain after the 1996 Dunblane Primary School Mass Shooting: A Model for the United States.” The dinner’s being held in Sacramento on Saturday, October 21. We’re also in the process of lining up speaking engagements for Dr. North in other parts of the country on later dates. I’d like to urge you to make reservations for the October 21 dinner in Sacramento if you live in Northern California; or, if you live in another part of the country, to help us line up a speaking engagement for Dr. North near where you live. Dr. North’s visit to the United States this fall will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet, learn from, and honor someone who I consider to be one of the true heroes in the field of gun violence prevention.
Dr. North lost his five year-old daughter, Sophie, in the 1996 mass shooting at the elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, in which Sophie’s teacher and 15 other children were also killed and 10 other children and three other teachers were wounded. (Sophie is the second child from the left, second row from the bottom, in the picture below, which also includes the 15 other children and the teacher who were killed.)
The Dunblane mass shooting was committed by a man who legally owned the handguns he used to commit his horrific crime. (Britain already had a ban on civilian ownership of automatic and semi-automatic long guns, including so-called “assault rifles.”)
Following the Dunblane Primary School mass shooting, Dr. North helped lead a successful campaign to completely ban civilian ownership of handguns in Great Britain within less than two years. There hasn’t been another school shooting in Britain since the handgun ban went into effect, and the rate of gun-related deaths in Britain is currently 1/70th the rate in the United States.
At the dinner in Sacramento on October 21, Dr. North will speak about how he and other grieving Dunblane parents overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve the handgun ban; why they felt that nothing short of a complete ban on civilian handgun ownership would suffice in response to the Dunblane mass shooting; and why the British handgun ban should serve as a model for gun control in the United States. Dr. North will also address the fraudulent claim by the U.S. gun lobby – a claim endorsed by a current majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices – that the Second Amendment “codified” into the U.S. Constitution a broad individual right to gun ownership that our country’s founders inherited from their English ancestors. In fact, the British people do not have – and never have had – such a right. Instead, the British people have the freedom to go about their daily lives without the fear of becoming victims of wanton gun violence; British children and youth have the freedom to go to school without fear of being gunned down in their classrooms; and British educators don’t have to include teaching students where to hide in the event of an active shooter on campus as part of their educational curricula.
For further details concerning the annual dinner and to make your reservations, please go to the Events and Other Resources page of our website or click on this link. The Events page also includes information about making discounted room reservations if you’d like to stay overnight at the hotel where the dinner is being held. In addition to coming to the dinner yourself, I hope you’ll encourage friends, family members, and colleagues to come to the dinner with you. The deadline to make reservations for the dinner is noon on Monday, October 16.
We recognize, of course, that many of our supporters live outside of Northern California and won’t find it practical to travel to Sacramento to attend the dinner. Dr. North has agreed to stay in the United States for a couple of weeks after the October 21 dinner in Sacramento, and we’re currently in the process of trying to line up additional opportunities for him to speak in other parts of the country. If you’d be interested in helping set up a speaking engagement for Dr. North near where you live, please let me know in a reply to this message.
At the annual dinner, I’ll also be talking a little about some of our many other Americans Against Gun Violence activities over the past year. These include:
- Our 2023 National High School Essay Contest in which we asked students to describe their thoughts about lockdown drills conducted in response to the threat of shootings on U.S. school campuses
We ended up receiving a record high number of 1,159 entries in our 2023 essay contest, including at least one essay from students attending school in all 50 states. Thanks to the help of many volunteer essay contest readers, we succeeded in selecting the top 12 winners, who received a total of $15,000 in awards, plus 28 other winners who received $100 each, by the promised date of May 15. Dr. North made the final choice of the top three winners and recorded a moving video message concerning the impression that the essays made on him. The winning essays and a link to Dr. North’s video are posted on the High School Essay Contest page of our website.
- Our 2023 Summer Intern Project
The essays that we received in this year’s essay contest were so poignant – and in many cases, so heart wrenching – that we decided to bring on summer interns to catalogue the students’ responses in all 1,159 essays and prepare a formal report. We engaged 9 student interns, chosen from among our essay contest winners, who, over a 12 week period this summer, abstracted data and verbatim quotes from all the essays submitted. It was my pleasure to meet with these bright and idealistic students frequently via teleconferencing throughout the summer. The essay contest report is nearing completion, and when it’s done, we’ll send a copy to President Biden, Vice President Harris, and to every member of Congress. We’ll also share the report with all of our supporters, of course, and post it on our website.
- Our amicus brief in the case of United States v. Rahimi
On June 30, the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case, in which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Texas, ruled that Zackey Rahimi, a drug dealer who had been involved in five shootings in a two-month period and who was under a domestic violence restraining order, had a constitutional right to own a gun. This decision was based entirely on the Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen decision, which rests in turn on the Supreme Court’s rogue 2008 Heller decision. We filed an amicus brief in Rahimi in which we not only argued that it should take the Court little time to decide that someone like Zackey Rahimi should not be considered to have a constitutional right to own a gun, but that the Court should reverse its prior Heller and Bruen decisions, upon which the Fifth Circuit’s Rahimi ruling was based. This is the third time we’ve filed an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to reverse the Heller decision and its progeny, and once again, we’re the only gun violence prevention organization in our entire country to make the point that in creating constitutional obstacles, where none previously existed, to the adoption of stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in other high income democratic countries like Great Britain, Heller and its progeny are not only wrongly decided, they’re literally death sentences for tens of thousands of Americans annually. (For additional details concerning our amicus briefs, see our August 23, 2023 press release).
I hope to see you either at our October 21 annual dinner in Sacramento or at some other speaking event for Dr. North in another part of the country later this fall. I also hope you’ll consider making a contribution to Americans Against Gun Violence to help us fund Dr. North’s speaking tour and to also help us continue our other work.
Thanks for your support. And thanks for helping us show through our actions, and not just our words, that like Dr. North and his colleagues in Great Britain, we’re a society that loves our children more than our guns.
Bill Durston, M.D., President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Note: Dr. Durston is a board-certified emergency physician, a former expert marksman in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a combat veteran, decorated for “courage under fire” during the Vietnam War.