Maxwell, 31, a member of Generation Progress’ #Fight4AFuture National Leadership Council, is an advocate for criminal justice reform from Columbia, South Carolina and a member of Zeta Phi Zeta, Young Democrats South Carolina, and Phi Alpha Delta. She spoke to us about Wear Orange Day, a national day of advocacy where people across the country wear orange to raise awareness about gun violence, and her advocacy work.
Jordan Sandman: Hi Bree, last week was Wear Orange Day, where thousands of people across the country wore orange to speak out against gun violence. What does Wear Orange Day mean to you?
Bryanta Maxwell: Hi Jordan, for me it’s about the victims of gun violence, and it’s really just that simple. Whether it’s the people who have lost their lives to gun violence, the people who have been injured by gun violence or the families who have lost brothers, sisters, and children to gun violence, Wear Orange Day is a matter of commemorating them and doing everything we can to make gun laws tougher and to make getting guns a whole lot tougher.
JS: What made you so passionate about reducing gun violence and encouraged you to become and advocate?
BM: The main thing that got me really interested in gun violence reduction and prevention was when we had the Charleston 9 shooting last summer.
JS: That was certainly a profound event, particularly for the black community. To go a bit into your personal story, how does gun violence affect your community in Columbia?
BM: In South Carolina, a lot of people come to Columbia to purchase guns from New York and other big cities because it’s easier to get them here. As a state, we also have high rates of criminal domestic violence. We are number one for women dying from gun violence and criminal domestic violence at the hands of men. So to me that’s a problem that we have living in the Bible belt; we have people who go to church every Sunday voting for politicians who cannot figure out how to make women safer and to make gun laws tougher. They’re more focused on keeping guns in the hands of the people. People want guns to keep themselves safer, but for every person who wants a gun to keep themselves safe, there’s another that wants to use guns to kill their neighbor. That’s one reason I fight for this issue. Another is, as an African American, I hear a lot of people talk about black on black crime, which I think is a false narrative. I don’t think there is such a thing as black on black crime, I think there is such a thing as crime. Crime is onefold, regardless of race, not twofold. I want to figure out a way to get to a point where we can make progress on gun violence that is plaguing the urban communities, particularly with African-American men, women, and children.
JS: You mentioned that you’re interested in public policies that would help reduce gun violence. Could you flesh those out a bit and elaborate on which policies you think could be effective?
BM: Sure. At one point, one of our main goals was changing the background check waiting period from three days to fourteen days, but I’d prefer an even longer waiting period, which could’ve benefitted a case like the Charleston shooting last year. I know they just had a bill in the state house that was being debated but certain representatives are working on killing that bill. We are trying to get South Carolina gun laws to mirror Georgia gun laws, which are more restrictive. Overall, I think South Carolina needs better gun laws to reduce our burden of gun violence.
JS: Public opinion on gun policy is often contentious and divided; how do you convince folks that we need more commonsense gun policies?
BM: The best thing we can do here is to put in a full effort lobbying the legislators, to keep pounding them on the issues that we want, and eventually build a level playing field. Second, you just have to go to these communities that have a lot of violence and talk to them about gun prevention and violence. You have to meet them where they are and encourage them to learn about these issues. Showing them how it affects the community as a whole is also important. Those are the main strategies that we use.
JS: Generation Progress is an organization that focuses on Millennials and the issues that matter to us. How does gun violence affect young people?
BM: Well it’s simple. A lot of kids are dying due to gun violence, be it babies, toddlers, or teens. I think it affects young people in a major way because even when kids aren’t the ones dying from gun violence, it’s their parents, it’s their families. Either a family is losing a child or a child is losing a parent or a sibling is losing another sibling. It’s threefold in that way.