One Woman's Legacy Reminds Us To Wear Orange In June And Keep The Fight Against Gun Violence Alive

If gunshot victim Hadiya Pendleton were still alive, she would have turned 26 this year. We'll never know if she would have followed her dreams to become a journalist or work at the Capitol. A decade ago, the then 15-year-old Black girl was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago, one week after she performed as a majorette for President Barack Obama's second inauguration. 

On June 2, 2015 — what would have been Hadiya's 18th birthday — teenagers decided to honor their friend Hadiya by wearing orange. "Orange is basically the color hunters wear to signal to other hunters not to shoot them," Ayisha Stanley, the Project Orange Tree anti-violence campaign organizer, told DNAinfo. "So that's why we're wearing it — to say, 'Don't shoot me.'"

Now, the color is a national symbol of anti-gun violence movements across the U.S. In June, National Gun Violence Awareness Month, hundreds of thousands of Americans wear orange to honor victims of gun violence. The number has never been more poignant: So far in 2023, Gun Violence Archive has counted 268 mass shootings, more than 2,500 children and teenagers shot, and at least 18,000 deaths in the U.S. due to guns, including suicides. That equals an average of nearly 117 gun deaths per day. A recent alarming survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans has lost a family member to gun violence.

Where gun control laws currently stand across the U.S.

Gun control has become one of the most divisive issues in the American political landscape. Advocates for tighter restrictions to reduce gun violence and deaths are up against opponents who argue for their Second Amendment constitutional rights to own and bear firearms for purposes like self-defense and hunting. 

In 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the first major federal gun measure passed by Congress in three decades, weeks after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas where 19 children and two teachers were killed. The bipartisan bill includes provisions that assist states to prevent people deemed a threat to themselves or others from obtaining weapons and expands background checks on buyers between the ages of 18 to 21. In April 2023, Tennessee lawmakers introduced a ban on the purchase of assault weapons. Texas recently advanced a bill that would raise the purchase age for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21.

Gun control takes various forms at the state level, and not all new legislation is about restricting guns. On July 2024, permit concealed carry on college campuses will be legal in West Virginia, as 11 other states do now. Now with more than half of the U.S. states allowing permitless carry, both Louisiana and South Carolina have upcoming bills heading for a vote in the Senate. 

New norms: women buying and repelling gun

Buying a gun seems to be a common response to the increasingly dangerous situation. The U.S. has seen a sharp increase in households owning one or more firearms, from 37 percent in 2019 to 45 percent in 2022, according to Statista. An unprecedented finding of a 2021 Harvard study suggested that new gun owners are more likely to be female. Jennifer Carlson, a professor of gun study, told The Washington Post, "The gun becomes a placeholder for security when there isn't anything else to turn to." Nevertheless, the gender gap in gun ownership remains stark, a Statista report shows: 41 percent of American women live in a household with a gun, but only 21 percent of women own a gun themselves.

Women gun-control activists are also making substantive progress despite the dooming image, calling for policy changes and painting their battleground orange. Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement that has a chapter in every state and over 10 million supporters, is acting in Connecticut and Hawaiʻi as both states recently signed gun safety bills. Here4TheKids, an organization founded by women of color, is mobilizing thousands of white women to demonstrate outside the Colorado capitol to demand a gun ban and an expansive buyback program, a popular and relatively easy way to get firearms off the streets and out of homes. Saira Rao, the founder, told CPR News, "What's radical is expecting our kids to go to school with bulletproof backpacks." Here4TheKids's action will continue from June 6 to 8 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.