Five years after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, some Grinnell residents are asking their neighbor, the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), to speak with them about curbing gun violence.
Iowan Pete Brownell is CEO of Brownells, an international firearm business with a large warehouse and retail store in Grinnell. He was elected president of the NRA in May.
On Sunday, about a hundred Iowans stood silently next to a highway in Grinnell and looked into the distance at the Brownells store as the sun set behind it. They had walked 3 miles in silence to that spot to remember victims of gun violence.
"It’s a silent walk, it’s not a protest, and that’s really important I think to what everybody has been hoping to convey as far as our tone," Wendy Abrahamson, the priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, told participants before the walk. "This is a silent, prayerful walk; it’s a yearning, and it’s a plea."
To these Grinnell residents, living in the same community as the president of the NRA is an opportunity for dialogue. They formed a group and started reaching out to Brownell to talk about gun safety laws.
"What’s really neat is this is a small town, and so it’s difficult to live in anonymity," says Jim Gilbert, a Grinnell resident and avid pheasant hunter. "I happen to know Pete Brownell—great guy, great businessperson—and I don’t think anybody is pointing at him and putting blame on him whatsoever. This is just another avenue to come together to talk, and he’s invited as well."
Abrahamson says the group hasn’t heard from Brownell yet.
Abrahamson says the silent walk wasn’t meant to make demands. She asked the people gathered near Brownells to "lift up in support Pete Brownell."
"It’s really important that we all know this is not directed at him," Abrahamson says. "It’s a yearning to be with him."
Grinnell resident Betty Moffett says her husband is a hunter who also hopes for improved gun safety.
"He has sympathy, as I do, for all sides of this issue," Moffett says. "For the people at Brownells, for the people at [Grinnell College], who sometimes seem like two weights on the scale. They don’t have to be."
She says she hopes all sides can come together and compromise.
A spokesman for Brownells did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The silent walk was one event in a 26-day campaign advocating for gun safety—one day for each of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Abrahamson says she intends to keep the gun safety group active in Grinnell.