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The story behind how one color became the symbol of gun control

A rage for orange.
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Today, US gun safety activists made dressing for work much simpler: Wear orange.

The chromatic call-to-arms was the brainchild of a Chicago-based advocacy group #WearOrange in conjunction with National Gun Violence Awareness Day in the US today (June 2). Coincidentally, their silent protest comes in the wake of yesterday’s tragic, deadly shooting of engineering professor William S. Klug at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The color orange symbolizes the value of human life,” the coalition of 200 non-profits explain on their website. The particularly vivid shade of orange that has been adopted by gun control activists is also known as ”blaze orange,” or “safety orange.” It is associated with hunting garments, road safety markers and caution signs. Many US states require hunters to don caps, shirts, and vests in “hunter orange” to help them stand out in the woods, offering a clear “don’t shoot” signal to fellow hunters.

But the color’s association with deliberate gun violence can be traced to a group of teenagers in Chicago. In 2013, students at King College Prep High School wore orange shirts to class to commemorate 15-year-old classmate Hadiya Pendleton, who was fatally shot in the back at school. Police reports indicate that the teen gunmen mistook Pendleton and her friends as members of a rival gang.

This adolescent show of solidarity (which they called Project Orange Tree) has since provided the unifying design element for a national movement to arrest gun violence in the United States. Every year, more than 30,000 Americans die from gun-related incidents.

Gun violence activists were not the first to wield this bold orange hue. Bright orange is an obvious choice for any campaign that hopes to instantly catch attention; the color of safety traffic cones and prison uniforms, orange screams emergency, caution and alert. The National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation prescribes wearing orange every 25th day of the month to protest gender-based violence like human trafficking and domestic violence. Canadian community group Every Child Matters holds an Orange Shirt Day in September as an occasion to discuss school matters. An anti-hunger campaign in Chicago has also used the color to promote their message. And of course, many corporations, start-ups, luxury brands, even benevolent religious groups have come to associate with the vivid hue.

Once purely utilitarian, the shade has taken on such powerful meaning in contemporary culture and even fashion that in 2012, trend spotters at Pantone named Tangerine Tango their “color of the year.”

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