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Mahati Vaidyanathan, a 6th grade student in Foster City, California, was at school May 24, as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, who was 1,600 miles away, stormed through Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, entered a classroom, and fired 25 times, killing 19 children and two teachers.

Vaidyanathan heard about the shooting when she came home. “I was horrified and devastated that kids my age were now dead,” she said, on the sidelines of a vigil May 25, held for the victims of the Texas shooting, and the May 14 mass murder in Buffalo, New York, at which 18-year-old Payton Gendron, a self-described white supremacist, killed 10 Black people at a supermarket.

Scared To Go To School

The Foster City vigil was organized by Shikha Hamilton, Vice President of Organizing at Brady: United To End Gun Violence, and Foster City Mayor Richa Awasthi.

Shikha Hamilton, Vice President of Organizing at Brady: United To End Gun Violence (right) is shown at a May 25 evening vigil in Foster City, California. Also shown are Rev. Ben Myers of the NAACP (left) and Diane Farnham, Peninsula Multifaith Coalition (center). (Photo by Sree Sripathy for India Currents)

The following day, Mahati’s school had an advisory meeting, at which school administrators instructed children and teachers what to do in the event of an attack. “It made me scared. I want to go to school, but I also want to take action.”

“Children shouldn’t have to worry about going to school,” said Mahati.

So Many Guns Out There

Mahati’s mother, Sangeetha Vaidyanathan, said she worries every day as she drops her two daughters, ages 6 and 12, off to school. “I sometimes drive by the school later, just to make sure everything is all right,” she said through tears.

On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, killed 32 people and wounded 17 others using semi-automatic pistols. Sangeetha was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania when the mass shooting occurred. “I thought it was a one-off. But now it is happening over and over again. There are so many guns out there.”

She noted Australia’s “National Firearms Buyback Program,” which ran from October 1996 through September 1997, and retrieved 650,000 guns. Australia’s strict gun laws prohibit ownership of even deactivated guns. “There is such resistance here. We don’t need semi-automatic pistols and AR-15s for hunting,” said Vaidyanathan.

Her husband Ramnath concurred. “It boils down to limiting access to guns,” he said.

Gun Store Owner Must Bear Responsibility

Asha Porwal, who also attended the vigil, said she was stunned by the tragedy in Texas. Ramos purchased two AR-15 rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition at the Oasis Outback store in Uvalde, just days after his 18th birthday.

Porwal said the owner of the gun store must bear responsibility for providing weapons to a mentally unstable young man.

Porwal’s children are in elementary school: she said she wants to take them out, and homeschool them instead. “I felt relatively safe when we lived in India; not so much here.”

Foster City Mayor Richa Awasthi. (Photo by Sree Sripathy for India Currents)

Awasthi, like several other speakers, choked back tears as she spoke. “So many mothers, like me, held their children a little closer last night. To be able to hug your child, to keep them alive, is a right, not a privilege.”

Bipartisan Background Check Legislation

Hamilton noted that at least one out of every five guns is purchased without a background check. HR 8, a bipartisan bill which would expand background checks, has been passed by the House. But the bill has been stuck in the Senate for more than a year.

“Gun violence is a solvable problem, but Congress does not have the courage for it,” she said.

Sunita Sohrabji

Sunita Sohrabji is the Managing Editor of India Currents. She is also the Health Editor at Ethnic Media Services.