In May 2010, two men barged into a high-school graduation party on 147th Avenue and 176th Street in Springfield Gardens, Queens, and started a fight. Within minutes, 17-year-old Kendrick Ali Morrow, Jr., a popular student with a scholarship from St. John’s University for the following school year, was shot dead. The motive and murderer are still unknown.
“Even though last month would have been Kendrick’s 25th birthday, he will always be 17 to me because he did not have the chance to live the bright life that we all dreamt for him,” said Shenee Johnson, the victim’s mother. She said that her son couldn’t wait to start university and had dreams of becoming an attorney. “And I’m his voice now.”
Johnson addressed a small crowd on the terrace of The Standard, High Line last night, for the launch of #RejectTheNRA, a campaign created by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization advocating for greater firearm regulation. Alongside actress Julianne Moore, the organization’s Creative Council Chair, and other celebrities like Kyra Sedgwick, Gina Gershon and fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, Johnson made a compelling call to help in the fight against the National Rifle Association’s plans to roll back on gun silencer safety laws and to enact “Concealed Carry Reciprocity,” a bill that would allow anyone to freely carry concealed weapons across state lines. The campaign came in the form of a texting service that connects you to your local political representative, allowing you to press them for gun reform.
Every day in the United States, 93 people are killed by gun violence and hundreds more are wounded. Following the recent deaths of 59 people in what is now the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, the majority of Americans now want stricter firearm regulation. Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old responsible for the Las Vegas massacre, had over 23 guns in his Mandalay Bay hotel room. Over half were assault rifles, one of which was accessorized with a “bump stock,” technology that turns regular firearms into machine guns.
At the same time, President Trump has rolled back on gun safety reforms. He recently made it easier for people with mental illness to own a gun, a move the NRA “applauded.” Congress has also recently been considering legislation that would eliminate a $200 transfer fee on silencers and allow people to carry their weapons not only across state lines, but in national parks.
According to John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, the NRA’s agenda is “guns anywhere, anytime, no questions asked.” His organization is not anti-gun, but they do advocate for tougher requirements, like nationwide required background checks and the prohibition of convicted domestic abusers from own guns. They also advocate for the safe storage of firearms and against the illegal trade of weapons.
While some have criticized Hollywood for its gun control activism, more and more famous faces are publicly joining the movement. In the wake of Las Vegas, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, John Mayer and Mark Ruffalo all became spokespeople for the gun control movement. “Somebody asked me not too long ago during an endless press junket, why I thought my voice made a difference as a celebrity,” said Julianne Moore. “I said, ‘Excuse me? My voice doesn’t make a difference as a celebrity, my voice makes a difference as an American citizen.’”
Founded in 2014 by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, Everytown for Gun Safety has gathered a group of high profile backers. Emma Stone, Bill Hader, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Elizabeth Banks and Melissa McCarthy are only a few of the names supporting the campaign, all of which sent in home videos of themselves calling their local representatives and pleading the public to do the same.
“I know there’s a trend going around where people like me are supposed to keep our mouths shut and stick to our day jobs and the truth is, because I wasn’t in Vegas and because I wasn’t in Newtown, and because I wasn’t in Orlando, I have a responsibility to use my voice for those who no longer have a voice,” said Kyra Sedgwick.
While the presence of celebrity placed a veil of optimism and glamour over the night’s topic, the reality of the life of Shenee Johnson, the mother of the teen whose senseless killing catapulted her into advocacy seven years ago, brought the crowd back down to earth. “My son was a young man that everyone loved, a true role model for his younger brothers,” she said. “It may be too late for Kendrick, but it’s not too late to help save the lives of so many other children.”