Our goal with today’s Wear Orange event is to remember, to mourn, to honor, and to recommit ourselves to the work.


Several people have asked, Why is orange the color that we wear, and why is this the designated weekend?  Here is the story.  Hadiya Pendleton was a vibrant fifteen-year-old who marched in President Obama’s inaugural parade in January 2013, but one week later was shot and killed on a Chicago playground.  A couple of years later, several of her friends decided to commemorate her birthday on the first weekend of June by wearing orange, the color that is universally worn by hunters to protect themselves and others from being shot.  They had a small event, but others heard about it and took steps to publicize it.  Quickly it grew into an annual nationwide observance, with hundreds of local events, sponsored by churches and synagogues, municipalities, women’s organizations, advocacy groups and ordinary folks.  Today, as Hadiya would be turning 26, we remember her and all the victims.

Our program today will not be long, but we hope it is meaningful, and that it both informs you and strengthens your own resolve to reduce gun violence.  Committing ourselves to gun violence prevention means joining a long-term struggle, with little promise of quick and easy victories.  However, I can assure you that striving to reduce gun violence will be one of the most meaningful and rewarding engagements of your retirement years.

I want to provide a few statistics on gun violence, many of which you probably know, but revisiting them now will help create context for this observance.  There are now far more guns than people in the United States.  Gun deaths are rising sharply in this country, with an astounding 23% increase from 2019 to 2021.  Possibly more shocking, deaths of children and youths have jumped 50% in that period.  80% of all murders and 55% of all suicides are committed with guns.  States with the highest gun death rates are those with the fewest restrictions on gun sales, gun licensing, and gun carrying.  Adding injuries and deaths together, since the beginning of the 21st century, about three million people have been shot in America, and nearly a million of those victims have died.  I will say that again.

There is a strong lobbying group that seeks to normalize carrying guns and considers deadly violence a necessary price that society must pay.  This twisted vision of a future in which we are all armed and ready to fire must be continually challenged, and must never be allowed to find a comfortable lodging place.

Deep and profound thanks to all of you who are engaged in mounting that challenge, especially those who have written to elected officials, urging passage of laws to reduce and prevent gun violence.  We have been pushing for several years, and we have seen some terrific accomplishments, as you will hear in a minute.  This year we had a solid group at Riderwood, led by Dodge Wells, and we will be active when the legislature convenes again next winter.

Now we will have four short statements about the spread and impact of gun violence, along with some steps being taken in the state of Maryland to address these things. 

Reading on Murders and Mass Murders

In millions of homes and communities all around our country people are feeling a heaviness and a pall as we are inundated by constant news reports of murders, especially mass murders.  This heaviness, this burden, burrows painfully into the hearts of each one of us.  As families across our land grieve and mourn their losses, we too grieve and mourn, longing for a more peaceful world.

We are especially shaken by the mass murders, like those in Buffalo and Uvalde last spring, which have become depressingly commonplace in recent years.  But single acts of gun homicide are also rising sharply, even though they don’t garner nearly as many headlines.

We remember and honor those who have been devastated by this terrible epidemic of gun violence.  We grieve with the families and friends of those who have been murdered.  And we grieve for ourselves as we ache with the pain of loss after loss.

However, we do not let grief bog us down and have the final say.  Rather, we find hope by working hard to change our laws and change our country.  Here in Maryland we have had notable success in passing sensible legislation to make us all safer.  A law passed a couple of years ago requires a background check on every gun purchase.  A new law this year prohibits guns in sensitive public places and tightens the rules on who can get a gun permit.  Another new law, called Jaelynn’s Law, in honor of a young teen who was murdered by her boyfriend, requires safe storage of firearms in a home where there are children under 18.  Many of you helped to get these good laws passed.

We rejoice in the enactment of these important state laws to reduce gun violence and murders.

Reading on Suicides

One shocking fact that we often overlook is that a majority of gun deaths in this country are suicides.  Gun suicides rarely make the newspapers, but researchers tell us that guns are used in more than twenty thousand suicides each year, well over 50% of all gun deaths.  This is happening across all age groups and all ethnic groups.  Teenagers, young adults, older adults, senior citizens – no demographic is immune to gun suicides, with more than 60 occurring in each and every 24-hour day.  Much of this is driven by loneliness, despair, isolation and hopelessness.  But the availability of guns provides the fuel for the epidemic.  Suicide rates in the U.S. are among the highest in the world, because guns are so widespread, so handy for any depressed person to acquire.

The vast majority of suicide attempts with guns are successful, while the majority of suicide attempts by all other means are not successful.  Guns are the tool, the means, facilitating thousands of suicides each year.  Without easy access to guns, many lives could be saved.

The new safe storage law in Maryland will help to reduce the suicide numbers.  So will another component of the legislation recently signed into law: a new program of education and youth suicide prevention across our state.

Maryland also has an Extreme Risk Protection Order law, sometimes called an ERPO or a “red flag” law, which enables family members, police and mental health professionals to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from someone who may be at risk of harming themselves or others.  This law has been successful in doing exactly what it is supposed to do, but many families do not know that it exists, so it is not as widely used as it could be.  Though we still have a long way to go in preventing gun suicides, we rejoice in the significant progress so far.

Reading on Domestic Violence

Another component of the gun violence epidemic is domestic violence.  Though rarely in the headlines, close to one thousand people are murdered each year by domestic partners, mostly with guns, and thousands more are injured.  The great majority of the victims are, of course, women.

In addition to the deaths and injuries, many others are terrorized by guns, threatened with gun violence, and stalked by partners or estranged partners who brandish guns.  The presence and potential use of a gun makes domestic abuse exponentially more dangerous and terrifying.

The challenge for lawmakers, and for all of us, is how to keep guns out of the hands of abusers and potential abusers.  On the federal level, convicted domestic abusers are barred from most gun purchases, and last year Congress closed an old loophole in that prohibition.  In Maryland we have a new law that strengthens the process for issuing gun permits in order to assure that permits are denied to people with a history of violence.  We have also outlawed all guns that have no serial number and no registration, because they are much more difficult to trace and track, and that helps to diminish gun use in domestic violence.  We also have the Maryland ERPO or “red flag” law as a valuable option for taking guns out of the hands of a potential abuser.

We rejoice in the enactment of strong laws to reduce domestic violence and domestic partner shootings, including Maryland’s stronger permitting process, its ban on ghost guns and its required background checks on gun sales.

Reading on Accidental Deaths

In addition to all the deaths from guns fired with intention, our country endures hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries each year from accidental shootings, because guns are ubiquitous and unsecured.  A child finds his parents’ gun and begins playing with it, inadvertently shooting a sibling.  A person waves a gun around in an attempt to intimidate others and accidentally pulls the trigger.  A gun falls out of someone’s waistband and discharges.  A police officer grabs and fires a gun when intending to use a taser.

Maryland has some brand new laws, recently signed by the governor, that will help reduce accidental shootings across our state.  One new law prohibits guns in sensitive public places, such as health care facilities, colleges, amusement parks, stadiums, casinos, government buildings, polling places, and bars.  Another provision establishes that a private property owner must give explicit permission before a gun can be brought onto that property.  And another provision bans open carry of handguns anywhere, including public places where guns are permitted, meaning openly displaying a handgun is not allowed in any public place.

We rejoice in the enactment of strong laws to reduce accidental shootings, such as the ban on carrying in sensitive public places, and the ban on open carry.


Wear Orange Committee Meeting of Thanks and Planning, 6/16/2023

Thank you for participating in this event.
Thanks to the committee members – Elaine Tiller, Carlotta Watkins, Pat Moskof, Mim Ostenso, Marlene Dunsmore and Phyllis Nash.  They did great work under challenging circumstances.

Thanks also to the excellent readers – Elaine Wunderlich, Jim Paoletti, Pearl Katz and Loretta Vitale Saks.

Thanks to the Riderwood staff for making all the arrangements.

GVP of Riderwood is a fairly new group, having been formed just a year ago in the wake of the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde.  We are non-partisan and we welcome everyone who wants to reduce or prevent gun violence.  Most of our communication is done through a list-serve, which is open to all.  Our model is to enable people to work on projects and activities that seem worthwhile and appropriate to them.  Some of you may remember that last fall we established some long-range Action Groups, but most of them didn’t work out.  So now our intent is to form working committees around specific projects.  Some folks are currently developing new initiatives, so please look for e-mails and publicity about things you can participate in.

If you take away only one learning from today’s program, I hope it is this — we have made big strides in Maryland on reducing gun violence, but we still have a long way to go.  Many good new laws have been enacted, but much more should be done and can be done.

One ongoing activity that does not require a committee or an action group is the monthly vigil at the NRA building, always on the 14th of the month.  It is organized by others, but we go and join them.  Please let me know if you are interested.

I want to close with this.  Many national politicians offer their thoughts and prayers when a mass shooting occurs, but some frustrated people have responded by saying that thoughts and prayers are not enough.  Have you heard that epithet hurled at elected officials?  Well, it goes for us too, not just for politicians.  We can’t get away with saying smugly that other people need to do something about the scourge of gun violence.  We too must go beyond thoughts and prayers with real actions.

The number one thing I ask you to do right now is join the list-serve.  And number one-A is to read the e-mails from that list-serve that land in your Inbox, preferably with an open mind and a willingness to do some new things.

Thank you, and Godspeed in all your efforts.

Bob Tiller