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Following the mass shooting in Dadeville, Ala., calls grow louder for gun reform


A week and a half ago, a mass shooting at a Sweet 16 birthday party killed four young people and wounded 32 others, mostly teens. Funerals for the victims continue in Dadeville, Ala. The second was held yesterday. And Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott was in Dadeville.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: At school, Philstavious Dowdell made an impact. Friends and teachers say the 18-year-old always had a smile and a wave. He was voted Mr. Dadeville High School. And they lined up on the sidelines to see him play football and run track, like in this video from his Twitter feed.


GASSIOTT: Yesterday, flags flew at half-mast at the high school. And the community lined up again, dressed in school colors, black and gold, for Dowdell's funeral.

SHEILA HILL: He was a very, very nice young man.

GASSIOTT: Across the street from the school, Sheila Hill (ph) has gathered with other women for support. Her son was at that birthday party, which was held for Dowdell's sister. Her son wasn't hurt and hid with others until the shooting ended. Hill says he's different now and doesn't want to be away from his parents.

HILL: He usually don't ride with us anywhere because he's 16. But since this happened, when me and his dad leave the house, he's like, I'm going. So he says he OK, but I'm not sure.

GASSIOTT: Six suspects were arrested, many close in age to the victims. Police have not released a motive, a timeline or the types of weapons used. Annette Allen, Dowdell's grandmother, believes guns are involved in too many shootings like this. She made this plea in the hours after the tragedy.


ANNETTE ALLEN: Put the guns down. Stop being violent. And get along with each other. And put God first, foremost. That what they need to do, learn about God. And they would know not to be picking up guns and shooting, shooting and killing.

GASSIOTT: Alabama's Black legislative caucus would like to put more restrictions on who's able to own guns. In the days following the shooting, State Senator Merika Coleman held a press conference in front of a funeral home near Dadeville. Coleman called for more red flag laws requiring dangerous individuals to surrender their firearms.


MERIKA COLEMAN: Our communities are hurting. Our young people are dying. And they are not looking for speeches or thoughts and prayers. They are looking for action to go along with those thoughts and prayers.

GASSIOTT: But Coleman and others face an uphill battle in a state where gun ownership is nearly 50%, according to a recent study by the Violence Policy Center. The study also ranked Alabama fifth in the nation for gun deaths. In January of this year, a law pushed by gun rights activists, which they call constitutional carry, went into effect in Alabama. It allows anyone 19 years or older to carry a gun without a permit. When Republican Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law, she said, unlike states who are doing everything in their power to make it harder for law abiding citizens, Alabama is reaffirming our commitment to defending our Second Amendment rights. Regardless of who's able to carry a gun in the state, law enforcement officer Sergeant Jeremy Birkett made one thing clear in a press conference in Dadeville last week.


JEREMY BURKETT: This is Alabama. And when you pull out a gun and you start shooting people, we're going to put you in jail.

GASSIOTT: More information about the shooting is expected to be released today, as many of the suspects are scheduled to appear at a court hearing.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Dadeville, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL FRANCE'S "CIRCLE - REPRISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kyle Gassiott