Camiella Williams grew up in a violent neighborhood in Chicago and bought herself a gun for $25 when she was in sixth grade. Tired of all the death and pain around her, Camiella has changed her life and is now working toward peace.
As an activist and gun reform advocate, the 26-year-old speaks about the ways people can reduce gun violence. She told MTV Act about her background, the reality of the underground market for guns and ways that our generation can truly make a difference.
ACT: You grew up around violence and were used to it. What experiences changed your views on gun violence and inspired you to make a difference?
CAMIELLA: My personal stories changed my views. I have been affected by gun violence directly and indirectly. I’ve lost loved ones to gun violence, and I’ve seen violence. My home was shot up before. My neighbors upstairs were shot and killed. The blood was still on my porch. Seeing all this is what made me want to make a difference. I got tired of going to funerals. I got tired of crying and living in sorrow. That’s basically what it was: You go to a funeral every other week.
ACT: Many people are unaware of the underground market for guns. Can you tell us a bit about it?
CAMIELLA: In the community I grew up in — Englewood, on the south side of Chicago — guns are very accessible because they were selling them in hole-in-wall restaurants and hole-in-a-wall apartments and unnamed convenient stores. If you want a gun, you can get a gun. You don’t have to have a FOID [Firearms Owners Identification] card, you don’t have to be 18 or 21. If you say, “Hey, I want a gun,” and you know somebody who can get you a gun, they’ll get it for you.
ACT: Some people feel that gun reform would infringe on their Second Amendment rights. What are your thoughts on this?
CAMIELLA: Gun reform will not infringe on Second Amendment rights. First you have to think about our rights to live in peace and be happy. The issue that people do not understand is that in order for these guns to become illegal, they were once legal. Meaning that someone — a straw purchaser [someone who buys a gun for someone else who can’t legally buy them or doesn’t want their name tracked] or a gun dealer — went and bought these guns and brought them back to the community and is there selling them. They look at it as, “You shot somebody? I sold you the gun, yeah, so what? You shoot somebody, that’s on you.”
For example, in 2006, Starkesia Reed was shot and killed in Englewood. Her shooter went to a gun dealer and bought an AK-47 [an assault rifle originally made for the military] for $150. He shot up the block and a bullet ending up going through her eye. When I went to court with the family of Starkesia Reed, the gun dealer testified, “Yeah, I sold him the AK-47.” And that was it. He knew [the killer’s] I.D. was fake, there wasn’t a thorough background check. He knew he didn’t look like a hunter, but he sold him the gun anyway. And now we have an innocent 14-year-old girl dead. The gun dealers are not being held accountable.