A year ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a grim report. It included this: “The average number of veterans who died by suicide each day remained unchanged at 20.” Marysville’s Ray Miller wants to talk about that, and about all gun violence.
Miller, a 69-year-old Air Force veteran, has heard stories of despair.
“A hopeless person is the most dangerous person on the planet,” he said Wednesday.
That’s a haunting statement. Surely a lack of hope applies not only to people who commit suicide, but to school shooters and workplace killers, and in gun crimes involving domestic violence, addiction and gangs.
Miller will be among speakers at Seattle’s Sam Smith Park Sunday for a 10 a.m. rally to honor those whose lives have been affected by gun violence and to raise awareness of prevention.
“I’m going to talk about the veteran issue,” said Miller, who cited that suicide toll among vets. “About 80 percent of them are with guns. Most are combat veterans with PTSD.”
No one would know by watching coverage of mass shootings that of all U.S. gun deaths, more than 60 percent are due to suicide.
Sunday’s event, to be followed by an 11 a.m. walk over the I-90 bridge, is part of Wear Orange Weekend. It’s an effort of the national Everytown for Gun Safety organization, which supports stronger gun laws. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is part of the Everytown movement.
Retired from the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, Miller has led post-traumatic stress disorder support groups. A veteran service officer with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, he has helped veterans adjust to civilian life. He founded Vets Place Northwest-Welcome Home, working at the Everett offices of Therapeutic Health Services, a nonprofit offering substance abuse and mental health programs.
Miller also worked as a drug and alcohol intervention specialist with Seattle Public Schools. In 2017, he ran for Snohomish County Council, for the District 1 seat won by Nate Nehring.
Proud of the roughly 12,000 votes he received, Miller said he’s now “trying to retire.” Married and with five children and 13 grandchildren, he doesn’t plan another run for elective office. But he hasn’t given up on political efforts. Miller said he testified 10 times in Olympia in favor of stricter gun laws.
Last November, Washington voters passed Initiative 1639, which changed the state’s firearms laws. A lawsuit is challenging the law, but according to the state Attorney General’s Office, it is “in force unless a court rules otherwise.”
Parts of the law that took effect Jan. 1 make it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy what the attorney general describes as a semiautomatic assault rifle, or for anyone to sell or transfer such a gun to those under 21.
Other provisions are scheduled to take effect July 1. Those involve enhanced background checks, waiting periods and training requirements related to semiautomatic assault rifles; criminal liability for failure to safely secure a firearm; and safety warnings and safe storage requirements for gun dealers.
Activists seeking to reduce gun violence hope for more — a ban on assault-style weapons and a limit on high-capacity magazines.
“Everybody may have the right to have a gun, but not everyone should have a gun,” Miller said. “I used to work at the VA hospital, and veterans would be walking around carrying guns. We had to stress that they leave their guns in the car.”
He said he’s known people who attempted suicide, and who later told him “they didn’t really want to kill themselves.” If the method is a gun, a second chance is unlikely, he said.
Miller won’t be the only speaker from Snohomish County at the rally. Mukilteo’s Judy Schneider-Wallace lost her first husband, Paul Schneider, to suicide in 2011. He killed himself with a shotgun the same day he bought the gun, Schneider-Wallace said in this column a year ago.
Involved with a local chapter of Moms Demand Action and part of the Everytown Survivor Network, she’ll speak at the Seattle rally. Other speakers include members of Congress and several people who lost loved ones in the 2018 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
There’s a reason orange became the color to draw attention to gun violence. Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore orange in her honor after the 15-year-old was shot and killed in Chicago — a week after she performed in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade in 2013.
At his Marysville home, Miller has a framed photo showing him with Obama. It was taken Oct. 9, 2015, when then-President Obama visited Seattle.
“We need a cultural shift in this country,” Miller said. “We need a leader to say violence is unacceptable in any circumstance. Violence is never the answer.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gun violence prevention rally
To recognize Wear Orange Weekend, a rally and walk are scheduled in Seattle Sunday to draw attention to gun violence prevention.
10 a.m. Sunday rally: at Sam Smith Park, 1400 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. Speakers include Marysville’s Ray Miller, Mukilteo’s Judy Schneider-Wallace, Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and Dr. Kim Schrier; Manuel and Patricia Oliver and Robert Schentrup, who lost loved ones in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting; and artist Gerard Tsutakawa, whose “Urban Peace Circle” sculpture at Sam Smith Park is dedicated to child victims of gun violence.
11 a.m. Sunday walk: from Sam Smith Park will cross I-90 bridge to Aubrey Davis Park on Mercer Island.
Veterans Crisis Line
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a 24-hour Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1.