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More than 400 people gather at first Gainesville gun violence summit | #schoolsaftey


Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward and University of Florida political science student Mikhail Mikhaylov discuss the turnout at Sunday’s gun violence summit. More than 400 people attended the event, including every city commissioner. (Jordan Ramos/WUFT)

The City of Gainesville is hosting a two-day gun violence summit titled “Choose Peace: Gun Violence Must Cease,” to discuss the high rate of gun violence in the city.

“We wanted to take a hard stop and listen to the community and have an opportunity for the rest of the community to speak up,” said Mayor Harvey Ward. “It’s clearly time for us to rethink some things about the way we approach gun violence in our community.”

Sunday, the first day of the event, was open to the general public and featured a panel discussion about the role of the community in addressing gun violence, a resource fair, educational breakout sessions and a youth town hall.

Attendees said they were hoping not only to learn about resources to combat gun violence but to understand the youth’s perspective.

“I’m here to hear from the youth about their perspective on what’s happening with guns and the violence they are experiencing so that we as adults can better understand and resolve some of these issues,” said Dr. Bridget Lee, the director of Multicultural Affairs at Southeastern University.

More than 400 people attended the event, which lasted from 12:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets for the summit were sold out on Eventbrite.

After the opening remarks, Greg Bradley, the founder and president of Mirror Image Leadership Academy, hosted a panel discussion titled “The Role of Community in Addressing Gun Violence.”

Attendees were allowed to ask a group of Gainesville leaders questions related to gun violence in the city. One of the main talking points for the panel was open communication between people when talking about gun violence.

“You can’t just assume they all grew up the same way,” said 16-year-old Lauryn Simmons, one of the panelists and vice president of the junior class at Gainesville High School. “If we just have a very open and honest conversation, a lot of these things can be prevented.”

A resource fair highlighting community support programs that address the root cause of gun violence was held at around 4:30 p.m. Many organizations attended the event, including Moms Demand Action, Peaceful Paths and the Children’s Trust of Alachua County.

Running concurrently with the resource fair were several educational breakout sessions designed to supply attendees with tools to discourage dangerous behavior and mitigate risk. The sessions were also used to get people to evaluate and understand the rise of gun violence at national and local levels.

At 6 p.m., a youth town hall was held with Desmon Duncan-Walker, Gainesville mayor pro-tem, as the moderator for the discussion. The panel set out to bring young people into the gun violence conversation.

Sixteen-year-old Lauryn Simmons discusses how open and clear communication between adults and youth will help push forward the conversation on gun violence. (Jordan Ramos/WUFT News)

“Tonight’s discussion was designed to allow our youth to lead us,” said Duncan-Walker.

The conversation mainly focused on the dangers of music, mainly drill music, when it comes to gun violence. Drill music is a subgenre of hip-hop music that has a similar beat to trap music but is lyrically similar to gangsta rap music.

“I feel like people who listen to it probably have the aspect of using it for aggression which is why I feel like it has become mainstream and popularized,” said Christopher Morgan, one of the youth panelists and a journalism student at Sante Fe College.

Gun violence in Alachua County has steadily risen since 2019. Twenty-five people died in 2021, the year with the highest number of gun deaths in Alachua County, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The instances of gun violence in Alachua went down slightly in 2022, but there have already been seven deaths in 2023, with the last occurring less than a month ago.

The second day of the event will take place at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center on Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. City officials will discuss existing and potential policies that combat gun violence.

“Choose peace, gun violence must cease,” said Duncan-Walker

Members of the community are concerned about gun violence not only in Gainesville but across the country.

“We’ve transitioned from ducking from bombings (school bomb drills) to school shooting drill practice,” said UF political science student Mikhail Mikhaylov. “As sad as it is to say, I thought I was safe from school shootings after graduating high school, but now it’s happening here at UF.

Mayor Pro-Tem Desmon Duncan-Walker gave the opening remarks for the panel discussion “Choose Peace, Gun Violence Must Cease” at the first day of Gainesville’s gun violence summit on Sunday. (Jordan Ramos/WUFT News)

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