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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Frederick Pulse Vigil a Poignant Moment

George Wenschhof

Last Tuesday evening, I was one of a reported 1,000+ people who attended the candlelight vigil in Frederick. I was struck by the need for reasonable gun control legislation, recognizing LGBT rights and for acceptance of religious beliefs. All three would sadly converge at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  The horrific tragedy that unfolded would leave 49 dead and many more injured.  It would shine the spotlight on the urgent need for legislative action on firearms and the continued work needed in helping us treat each other in a respectful manner.
Last Tuesday morning, although I had received a Facebook “Invite” from Kristopher Fair who was moderating the event, I was not planning to attend the Pulse Vigil in Frederick that evening. However, a visit to my primary care doctor in the morning changed my mind.  Dr. Syed Haque, who is the president of The Frederick County Muslim Council asked me to attend.  I had already read his column on the Pulse disaster published in the local paper condemning the action and he informed me he was a speaker at the vigil that evening. I told him I would of course attend.

The quickness of my answer to attend when Dr. Haque asked was due in large part because of the many Muslims in my medical team who literally saved my life in my battle with late stage colon cancer.  It was my primary care doctor who first suspected colon cancer, my gastroenterologist who confirmed my cancer with a colonoscopy and my Oncologist who administered my chemotherapy.  All are Muslim.  My oncologist would help me through the grueling six months of chemotherapy and continues to monitor me as does my gastroenterologist.  I would see several of them at the Frederick candlelight vigil.

It is possible my cardiologist, one of my surgeons and others who have provided medical care to me are also Muslim.  I do not know for sure because I never asked.  My concern with my medical team was and continues to be centered on their experience, their recommended treatment and their ability to keep me healthy.

Years ago the late David “Kip” Koontz moved to Frederick and approached me because he wanted to serve in public office.  I was actively involved in Democratic Party politics at that time.  I would treat him the same as I did the other Democratic candidates. He would eventually win and serve a term as an alderman with The City of Frederick.  He was the first openly gay candidate to hold office in Frederick.

When I was involved in the Maryland for Howard Dean presidential campaign, I would name Koontz as the Frederick County Dean campaign coordinator.  I did so, not because he was Gay, but because he was well suited for the position.

Recently, when I needed a ride to see one of my doctors, his partner was quick to volunteer to drive me, at one point telling me “We always appreciated you treating us fairly”.

I was fortunate to have been raised in a family devoid of bigotry and hate.  My late mother in her Will made sure I never forgot a story I had shared with her as a little boy.

She wrote “Remember when you were crossing to the Simpson’s, in deep snow and ice and a burly colored man came toward you, looking very mean? You said that, at first, you were afraid, and then as this man came close to you, he said “Be careful, boy, not to slip”, with great kindness in his voice.  You were nine years old. You said “Mother, in the top of my mind, I don’t like some people; but in the bottom of my mind, I love everyone”.  Do you remember this, George? I give to you what you already possess: love of and for others, and perfect fair play!”

I share the sadness for the loss of life in Orlando, the frustration and the call for action on gun control expressed by Reverends John Deckenback, Robert Apgar-Taylor, Anjel Scarborough, Carl Gregg and Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz during the Frederick vigil.

I am also thankful for their presence and the remarks given by Frederick County executive Jan Gardner (D), The City of Frederick mayor Randy McClement (R), and Frederick County Muslim Council president Dr. Syed Haque who denounced the horrific actions by the Muslim shooter in Orlando.

Kristopher Fair would do an excellent job moderating the event and I would like to give a shout out to Fredrick chief of police Edward Hargis and the police officers who were present.  They were extremely professional and although visible present, stayed in the periphery.  In addition, a correct decision was made to block off the section of W. Church Street between N. Market and N. Court Streets during the vigil.

It is also important to note the large crowd was equally mixed with straight and LGBT individuals who came together to mourn the senseless loss of life at the Pulse nightclub.

Too many mass shootings are taking place across America for congress to fail to act.  The United States has already experienced too many Newtown’s, Charleston’s, San Bernardino’s and Orlando’s mass shootings in recent years.

I grew up in Frederick County and hunted as a young boy.  Before, I went out to hunt, my parents sent me to the old Flair U.S. Army Reserve Center located on Rocky Springs Road to take a class on proper care of firearms.  I would use a single shot 20 gauge shotgun.  The only firearm I would ever own.

Reinstatement of the ban on the sale of assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips is needed immediately.  I used to respect the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a young boy.  But I am disheartened listening to their rhetoric today.

Making it harder to obtain an assault weapon and high capacity ammunition clips should be a priority for congress.

After years of criminals using machine guns to wreck havoc and spread fear during the prohibition years, congress would ban the sale of machine guns in 1934.

Once again, it is time for congress to act.  This is an election year and voters should be asking their congressmen how they are going to vote on this issue.

The “No-Fly”, No-Buy” bill presently under consideration is a step but is not enough.  It is reasonable to expect that a suspected terrorist banned from getting on an airplane should also be banned from obtaining a firearm.

The last thing our country needs today are politicians who run for office flaming tensions by invoking fear and using bigotry. Discriminating against individuals based on religion, sex or sexual orientation is not a trait we should ever accept from our elected leaders.

We deserve better - Demand it and remember to vote in November.

Stay tuned.