National Gun Violence Awareness Day - "Wear Orange"

The Jackson Purchase is pro-gun and pro-Trump country.

But the mayor of the region’s main town is reportedly the first mayor in the country to issue a proclamation recognizing June 2 as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, an annual observance the National Rifle Association ridiculed as “pointless” and “a thinly-veiled anti-gun stunt.”

“We’re so proud of Paducah and Mayor Brandi Harless,” said Christa Dubrock. She heads the city’s Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter, which encouraged Harless to make the proclamation.

Mayor Brandi Harless
Mayor Brandi Harless of Paducah

“The proclamation is a first step, but a big step toward more awareness of the growing problem of gun violence,” Dubrock declared.

Last year, 184 mayors issued similar proclamations, reported WKMS-FM. Harless is the first one this year, according to Murray State University’s National Public Radio affiliate.

Harless’s proclamation calls on citizens to wear orange—the official color of National Gun Violence Awareness Day—on June 2. “The color symbolizes keeping ourselves safe,” Dubrock explained. “Hunters wear orange for safety.”

She said there has been some pushback against the mayor and the Moms group over the proclamation. “We’ve had some hate from some channels.”

The Moms remain undaunted. Their numbers are growing, too, according to Dubrock.

Nonetheless, gun culture in the Purchase runs as deep as the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi rivers which bound the mostly rural region on three sides. NRA stickers are common on cars and trucks in the eight-county territory, which is as far west as Kentucky goes.

The Purchase is arguably the most conservative corner of the Bluegrass State. Some vehicles still sport Trump-Pence stickers. The Republican ticket collected more than 71 percent of the Purchase vote in 2016.

Not surprisingly, the two largest Moms chapters in Kentucky are in “Liberal Louisville” and Lexington, seats of the only counties—Jefferson and Fayette—that Hillary Clinton carried.

“I think it probably is a surprise to a lot of people throughout Kentucky that our chapter has formed and taken shape as quickly as it has,” Dubrock said.

The Paducah Moms chapter started in February, a month after a 15-year-old male, armed with a handgun, killed two fellow students and wounded another 14 at Marshall County High School, about 21 miles southeast of Paducah.

The nephew of a Moms member was wounded in the 1997 shooting at now closed Heath High School, a dozen miles west of Paducah. A 14-year-old male pulled a pistol, killed three students and wounded five more.

Dubrock said National Gun Violence Awareness Day stemmed from the January 29, 2013, shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton of Chicago. The first observance was in 2015.

Her friends founded Project Orange Tree in March, 2013, both to honor her life and to work to prevent other tragic deaths resulting from firearms violence. June 2 was Pendleton’s birthday.

“Orange is a bright, bold color that demands to be seen,” says Wearorange.com. “Orange expresses our collective hope as a nation — a hope for a future free from gun violence. We are not headlines or statistics. We are mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, and friends. We are teachers, dancers, athletes and activists. We are here and we are united. We demand to be seen and we demand to see change.”

Dubrock said despite the NRA attacks on Moms, the nationwide organization is not anti-Second Amendment. She pointed to the group’s website: “Moms Demand Action supports the 2nd Amendment, but we believe common-sense solutions can help decrease the escalating epidemic of gun violence that kills too many of our children and loved ones every day. Whether the gun violence happens in urban Chicago, suburban Virginia, or rural Texas, we must act now on new and stronger gun laws and policies to protect our children.”

It will doubtless take some time for the Paducah Moms chapter to rival the NRA in popularity in the Purchase. But Dubrock points out that the chapter has gone from zero to about 40 members in just four months.

“I think there have always been people in our community that were concerned about gun violence but we weren’t aware of each other,” she said. “Now we are. Now we have a way to reach out for each other and stand with each other.”

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.