Demanding Action, Saving Lives

Reverend Joel Tolbert does not want anyone else to experience the same tragedy he did at 6-years-old.

“I remember an argument starting out and it wasn’t a surprise to me that they were arguing again,” said Tolbert, from Oconee Presbyterian Church. “He reached in [the black leather bag] and mom grabbed me. She picked me up and just thought, I never said this but I’m convinced, he was gonna aim at us. I got to see him go for himself,” said Tolbert before an audience gathered for Moms Demand Action’s monthly meeting. Tolbert shared his own personal story of witnessing his father commit suicide.

Surviving Gun Violence: Reverend Tolbert opens his heart and shares his experience with Moms Demand Action. After his traumatic experience with firearms he has never purchased a gun. “I changed the way I think about guns in our house. Not one, not ever.” Tolbert said. Photo by Brittany Lopez.

On Tuesday, September 10, the group’s gathering at the Athens-Clarke County Library focused on raising awareness for suicide prevention. 

To this day Tolbert still carries the trauma caused by gun violence. Stories like his inspired Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to establish The EveryTown Survivor Network to empower gun violence survivors through a healthy support system. 

Moms Demand Action also created Be Smart for Kids to teach adults with children in their household how to handle firearms responsibly. The campaign has held 4,100 events advocating gun safety within all 50 states. 

“That’s to teach adults how to store their guns safely in their home and to keep guns out of the hands of children because it’s a shocking number of kids that are killed every year,” said Marisue Hillard, a spokesperson for Moms Demand Action in Athens. Daily 21 children lose their lives due to gun violence. Every day 100 deaths are committed by firearms and every year 22,00 suicides are committed by guns. 

During the meeting Emma Jones, a leader of the local chapter, discussed other ways to prevent suicides. She mentioned how Veterans Affairs offered gun locks to veterans for free. Members also discussed how the Georgia Crisis and Access Line is available 24 hours per day in addition to an app and an interactive media system.

Jones wants to focus on more direct action: citizen advocacy where change is demanded from leaders.

“Nobody calls up Congress and says ‘one person committed suicide today, you have to do something about them’. Call your U.S. Senator. Tell them that they can pass background checks and a strong red flag,” Jones said. 

While Moms Demand Action was created to advocate gun safety, some members themselves are gun owners. 

“I’m not anti-gun, I own guns. I grew up on a farm and used to hunt,” said Hillard. 

“Our organization is definitely not anti-gun. We’re anti-gun violence,” said Kim Haltiwanger.