Community remembers victims of gun violence with candlelight vigil at Solana Beach church

On the eve of the third-anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, about 150 people gathered at a Solana Beach church to remember the victims and call for an end to gun violence.

People of all races and religions united for the candlelight vigil Dec. 13 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito in Solana Beach. The annual community gathering was first held after the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six adults dead.

“We are gathered here to stir the spirits of our hearts towards hope, justice and compassion,” said Rev. Ian Riddell, minister of music and worship arts for First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego.

Several local officials attended the event, including San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, Encinitas Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Encinitas Councilman Tony Kranz, Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, former Encinitas Mayor Teresa Barth and Solana Beach School Board member Richard Leib.

In a moment of reflection, elected officials, religious leaders and community members walked with lit candles to the church’s outdoor amphitheater, where photographs of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, other mass shootings and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino lined the perimeter.

Shaffer read the names of the victims, while participants used their candles to light candles next to the pictures.

“This evening’s vigil is to honor all lives lost to gun violence,” said Steve Bartram, a board member of the San Diego County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who has helped organize the National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence’s local event the past three years. Bartram, who is married to Shaffer, also heads the Gun Violence Prevention group at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito.

“We are hoping that you will bring compassion and leave with hope that there are other things we can do.”

About 33,000 Americans are killed by firearms annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, aims to cut the number of gun-related deaths in the U.S. in half by 2025. Representatives of the group protested gun violence earlier in the day in Del Mar, where a gun show was held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds over the weekend.

Vigil organizers and speakers encouraged community members to contact their representatives and ask them to support legislation for stricter gun control and registration. Blakespear said the country’s tolerance for gun violence needs to change and that owning a gun should be better regulated like driving and smoking tobacco.

“As politicians, we care what you think and we listen to what you think,” Blakespear said. “I believe that we are perfectly positioned to make a tremendous change in the number of deaths from gun violence because we have a political system that is so responsive to our populous.”