Natasha Cloud, Phoenix Mercury use platform to raise gun safety awareness

Natasha Cloud, Phoenix Mercury use platform to raise gun safety awareness

Phoenix Mercury guard Natasha Cloud’s shoes say “Protect Kids Not Guns” and “Teach Peace” to honor Gun Violence Awareness Day at Footprint Center on June 7. (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

By Joshua Heron

June 14, 2024

Arizona has the 18th highest rate of gun deaths in the US, with a rate of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

PHOENIX — Natasha Cloud had an arranged dinner with her agent Thursday night, but a burdened heart forced the Phoenix Mercury guard to cancel.

Cloud, teammate Natasha Mack and other staff members attended a two-and-a-half-hour private Moms Demand Action event earlier in the day. They met with local gun violence survivors and their families to hear their stories in preparation for Gun Safety Awareness theme night Friday at Footprint Center. Moms Demand Action is a nationwide grassroots movement that advocates for improved gun laws to protect the country from gun violence.

“(The event) was heavy,” Cloud said after shootaround Friday morning. “We could have been there all day, having those survivors, whether they actually survived the bullet themselves or a family member was taken from them, to hear their stories, to hear their trauma, that is never fruitful. I hear a lot of times (people say), ‘This person lost so-and-so.’ They didn’t lose (someone); they were taken from them.”

In an average year, 1,054 people die by guns in Arizona, according to EveryTownResearch. The research site also reports that Arizona has the 18th highest rate of gun deaths in the US, with a rate of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

RELATED: Phoenix police have pattern of violating civil rights and using excessive force, Justice Dept. says

Over 58% of the American population is affected by gun violence. There were at least 107 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2024, resulting in 29 deaths and 61 injuries nationally.

“Having young kids and with the gun violence going on, it’s a scary time,” Tibbetts said Friday. “Not only for all of us but especially our kids. So I think bringing awareness … is huge.”

Moms Demand Action members attended Friday’s game against the Minnesota Lynx. In addition to being honored and watching Mercury guard Kahleah Copper hit a last-second game-winning triple with 0.7 seconds remaining, they witnessed Mercury center Brittney Griner’s first game of the season after a 10-game absence due to a toe fracture.

Although grateful to return, she understands there’s work to do off the court surrounding gun safety.

“Especially with gun violence in America …we have to do a better job,” said Griner, who is averaging 17.5 points and helped lead the Mercury to a 97-90 double-overtime victory Sunday in Dallas. “Kids getting hands on guns and all the things that we see, I hope it changes, and the Mercury will continue to push that.”

Cloud has raised awareness about gun violence since her time with the Washington Mystics. She held a team-wide media blackout in 2019 after bullets hit a local elementary school in DC. and called out local elected officials for reform. Events like the one she attended Thursday inspire her to persist.

“It (the event) is more motivation for me to utilize my platform,” Cloud said. “Because, as a human being, how can I not have empathy for what other people are going through? How can I not have the consciousness to understand that more than half of Americans are affected by gun violence every single day. It’s every single day. I’ve been blessed that it hasn’t (happened to me) yet. But to these people, they were trying to say that it could happen to us.”

Cloud’s house burnt down when she was in college. She admitted that she never thought a tragedy of that nature could occur in her life. Although gun violence hasn’t impacted Cloud personally, she’s aware that she’s not immune.

“S— happens,” Cloud said. “And so it’s on each of us to do our part and a little bit more (action). And if you’re not going to do it for the person next to you, if you’re not going to do it for your neighbor, then do it for your own family, your mom, your dad, your brothers, your sisters, your sons, your daughters, your cousins, your friends. If you don’t have it in you to care about other people because of things based on race and religion … care about your own family and do your part in protecting them. It starts in your household…”

Liz Dixon, 23, is the youngest Mercury player, but despite her youth understands the importance of action.

“It’s one thing to just say and talk about it, but it’s another thing to actually be about it,” Dixon told Cronkite News Thursday. “If you want change in the world, then actually go out there and do something about it.”

The US failed to move swiftly to its mass shootings in comparison to countries like Australia. After a mass shooting in 1996 killed 35 in Port Arthur, Australian authorities enforced tighter restrictions on guns. Guns like shotguns and semiautomatic rifles were no longer permitted, according to the New York Times. The Times added that between 1996 and 2022, Australia had one mass shooting. In June, Gun Violence Archive reports that the US has experienced 23 mass shootings in June.

“It took Australia one mass shooting to change and shape their legislation,” said Cloud, who spent a season playing for WNBL team Townsville Fire in Australia. “I understand the right and want to hear arms, but when we are talking about the grand scheme of things, if it means that I (as a gun owner) need to go through a more extensive background check to ensure the safety of someone else, I’m okay with that. But if it’s such an inconvenience to you to save other people’s lives and potentially your own families, your own child … then I don’t know what to tell you.”

Cloud reinforced that the purpose isn’t to take guns away from American citizens but to create a safer environment with the enforcement of measures such as adequately storing them away from kids, Red Flag laws that protect the mentally ill and extensive background checks.

“We have an obligation in this country to protect our citizens, to protect our kids, to protect innocent lives, and we continue not to do it,” Cloud said. “We rather place a TikTok ban before we ever implement any gun laws or legislation surrounding it, to protect again, our citizens of this country. And so, you know, especially with my fight in DC, and even my fight now, kids deserve to feel safe going to school. They deserve to be safe while they’re in school.”

Cloud didn’t only call on elected officials and American citizens to fight for change; she also acknowledged that athletes have a role in making homes, schools and the country safer.

“I know some people don’t like the responsibility, but it is what it is; we (athletes) have this role, and this microphone sits in front of my face, and for me not to do what I’m trying to do with it, that would just be a disservice to my community and to a lot of people that need a voice to be a voice for the voiceless, and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” she said. “We have what can feel like a microscope on us as athletes all the time, and instead of looking at it as a microscope, I challenge us to start looking at it as a microphone.”

Author

  • Joshua Heron

    Joshua Heron expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Heron served as a sports reporter for The Hilltop, Howard University News Service, and social-impact brand FISLL as an undergrad at Howard University. He also worked as a freelance reporter for Capital News. His interview series, “Wagwan In Life,” hosts people across multiple professions. Heron produced “Championship Culture,” a documentary highlighting the Howard women’s basketball team. He was a 2023 National Geographic HBCU Media Scholar and former My Brother’s Keeper Fellow.

CATEGORIES: CRIME AND SAFETY
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