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“When Moms Are Mad, They Vote!”: If Congress Continues To Ignore Mothers, And More Children Die, Cowards Of Capitol Hill Won’t Know What Hit Them

This past week, the nation mourned the passing of former White House Press Secretary James “The Bear” Brady, an American hero who stood up to the gun lobby despite being in a wheel chair, put there by a deranged gunman in a 1981 shooting.

Every day scores of Americans experience an “aha!” moment about our country’s lack of a sensible gun policy. Perhaps because they’re one of the 280 families impacted daily by gun violence, like Jim and Sarah Brady.

Brady’s shooting was not my “aha” moment. Nor was it Sarah Brady’s, either. While devastated by her husband’s injury, it was an incident four years later, involving their 6-year-old son that got her mad. As an outraged mother, Sarah volunteered for a gun violence prevention (GVP) organization working to pass a bill requiring background checks on gun sales by licensed dealers.

Sarah spent the next seven years inspiring mothers and others to pressure their congressmen to vote for the Brady bill. Passed in 1993, the Brady Law was not perfect: its gun show loopholes made it easy for the Columbine killers to acquire firearms in April of 1999 as well as for the shooter at the JCC day camp, a few months later.

That latter shooting 15 years ago this August 10 was my “aha!” moment.

A gunman stormed a California JCC day camp, spraying 70 bullets at campers, injuring five, including a teenage camp counselor trying to protect them. The campers who were shot that day were close in age to my two daughters, then 4 and 5 years old. The image of a daisy chain of young children being led away from the carnage — hit me hard.

Within three weeks, as a mom on a mission, I recruited 25 others to join me at a Labor Day news conference to announce that we were organizing a Million Mom March on Washington to take place the following Mother’s Day. Over the next nine months, hundreds of mothers spanning congressional districts across the country were calling on their elected officials. Many, like me, for the very first time.

Our ultimatum to Congress: act quickly to pass common sense legislation, or we would march en masse. Slowly but surely legions of women I’d never met were putting bus rentals on their personal credit cards. Others negotiated with airlines for steep discounts. One commandeered an entire Amtrak train, packed it with so many moms New York’s Penn Station dubbed it “The Million Mom March Express.”

On Mother’s Day, 2000, we marched on the National Mall and in 77 support protests with nearly a million supporters in tow. And when Congress still failed to act, in November, bands of urban and suburban mothers marched on to the polls, unseating several gun lobby stalwarts in the U.S. Senate. In Oregon and Colorado, mothers joined coalitions that succeeded in passing voter-approved referendums that closed the gun show loopholes in those gun-loving states.

But in one of the worse “group think” decisions ever, leaders of GVP movement deliberately delayed publicly touting our victories until the 2000 presidential race was decided. By the time the U.S. Supreme Court painfully chimed in more than a month later, handing the presidency to George W. Bush, the gun lobby had successfully spun a deceptive media narrative that the gun issue had cost Al Gore the presidency. The GVP movement never fully recovered its 2000 momentum.

Still, despite this huge misstep, we marched on to become a generation of activist mothers, like Sarah Brady, educating communities about gun violence prevention for many more years to come. A thankless job, but we did it for our children. Congress, on the other hand, refused to finish the job it started in 1993 by closing the loopholes in the Brady law.

Congress has its heroes who’ve tried to do right. But they’re repeatedly thwarted by colleagues terrified of a soulless gun lobby, unmoved by staggering statistics such as an estimated 1.5 million Americans have been injured or killed by a firearm in the last 15 years.

How much higher would the annual number of victims be if not for mothers advocating gun safety? I shudder to think. How much lower might it be if Congress had done its job years ago? That angers me to no end.

Twenty more children (and six brave educators) died on December 14th, 2012 at the hands of yet another deranged gunman at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. The 20 slaughtered kids were the same ages as those injured 15 years earlier at the JCC. Again, an eerily similar image of a Daisy chain of terrified kids being led to safety enraged mothers across the country. Except this time, this new generation of moms has a new tool: social media — a faster, cheaper way to educate an electorate.

Politics can be unpredictable. But this is certain. If Congress continues to ignore mothers, and more children die, the cowards of Capitol Hill will not know what hit them at the polls. For when moms are mad, they vote.

 

By: Donna Dees Thomases, Million Mom March Organizer; The Huffington Post Blog, August 7, 2014

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Common Sense Is Not So Common”: Universal Background Checks A First Step On Gun Violence

For the better part of 20 years, I have lived and worked in Washington, D.C., an urban metropolis once dubbed “the violence capital of America” by the Economist. I was born and raised, however, in Alaska, a largely rural state, where guns are an intricate part of its hunting culture and often necessary for survival.

I have lived and witnessed both sides of the gun control debate with my family and my friends, and I have sought to understand the valid points of each. My family believes that guns are to be used responsibly for hunting, sport, recreation and protection. My friends living in Washington, D.C., and other urban areas fervently believe that banning and restricting the use and flow of guns will reduce gun violence.

This past week, while visiting my family in Alaska, I attended my first gun show. I wasn’t sure what to expect and did see my share of interesting characters: One woman was carrying her AR-15 like it was a Gucci purse, and camo-chic was definitely the preferred attire, along with military bunny boots and Carhart coveralls. But what struck me most was that vendors were not professional dealers with slick advertisements, instead they were everyday citizens simply looking to sell their wares: Colt 45s, Glock revolvers, hunting knives, bear traps and the increasingly popular AR-15. As one vendor told me, “President Obama should be given the ‘gun dealer of the year’ award for increasing the sales of the AR-15.”

At the show, one could sense the ingrained culture surrounding gun ownership from both the vendors and attendees. They were patriotic, law-abiding citizens who want their constitutional rights to be respected and preserved and to protect their family and allow them to hunt the land.

Unfortunately, not everyone in possession of a gun is a law-abiding citizen. Law enforcement is asking for additional tools, such as the ability to have background checks conducted on all sales and to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Today, two out of every five guns sold in the U.S. change hands without a background check. In nine of 10 gun crimes, the gun used was not owned by the original purchaser.

Since the Brady Law took effect, which requires background checks on purchases from a federal licensed dealer, 172 million Americans have been subjected to background checks and 1.3 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers have been stopped from buying guns. In the three of the five states that host the most gun shows, Illinois, Pennsylvania and California, the “gun show loophole” was closed, requiring universal background checks on gun sales by unlicensed and private dealers, proving they can be done efficiently without harm to business.

In January, both Gallup and Fox News polls showed separately, that 91 percent of Americans favored universal background checks on all gun purchases with as many as 77 percent of National Rifle Association members supported the checks.

Ultimately, we must acknowledge the root cause and seek to change our nation’s heart and attitude toward the preciousness of life and not default to having violence solve our problems. My dad recently lamented that, “Until there is a societal attitude about the great value of each individual life, the carnage will continue.”

In the meantime, implementing universal background checks that preserve the rights of law-abiding citizens while denying those who target the innocent to perpetrate evil seems like a balanced, common sense first step.

 

By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, March 13, 2013

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Campus Carry Movement Stutter-Steps Across America

Last October, an email popped into my inbox from Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of gun rights networking hub OpenCarry.org, which boasts the motto, “A right un-exercised is a right lost.” He was responding to a question I had about the possible re-tabling of a bill in the Texas legislature which would, if passed, allow students to carry handguns with them to college.

At the time, only Utah allowed the carrying of concealed weapons into the classrooms of public universities, while Colorado left it up to the colleges themselves to decide. Stollenwerk wrote: “My bet is that there are a fair number of college students and faculty members across America who, after the Virginia Tech murders, have decided to regularly carry loaded concealed handguns to class even when it violates college administrative rules … I hope campus carry is legalized in Texas soon.”

But faculty members weren’t as keen on their students packing heat during their lessons as Stollenwerk thought they might be. Last month, just as state senators were ready to send a bill to allow handguns on campus to a final vote, University of Texas (UT) Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa wrote a public letter to legislators saying the gun bill was a bad idea. And he had the public support of both the UT Faculty Counsel and Texas A&M University Faculty Senate. The result: the bill stalled in the Texas senate, lacking the two-thirds of votes needed to get it on to the floor.

But Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the Texas Republican who authored the bill, was persistent, and yesterday he managed to get it tacked on to a piece of education finance reform legislation which passed the state senate.

If the bill in Texas becomes law, some professors there have said they plan to include a clause in syllabi stipulating that students are not be permitted to carry guns into their classroom — and then simply refuse to teach classes where students don’t assent.

Campus-carry legislation was also on the move this spring in Arizona. Three weeks ago, the state’s conservative governor Jan Brewer vetoed a gun rights bill that had already made its way successfully through both houses, saying it was “poorly written” and that allowing guns to be carried in ‘public rights of way’ could have included K-12 schools — something prohibited under state and federal law.

But the hiccup in Arizona hasn’t stopped the movement to allow guns on campus gather momentum elsewhere. This year alone an astonishing 20 states have seen ‘guns on campus’ bills introduced (so far seven have failed).

The non-profit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence points out that since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, campus-carry legislation has been stymied 51 times in 27 states. But they shouldn’t sit back and breathe a sigh of relief just yet. In Arizona, Brewer has signaled that she’d consider future campus-carry legislation if it addressed her concerns.

The gun rights lobby is powerful — and persistent. And here’s a peculiar anomaly: that movement seems emboldened by the perception that President Obama is a “committed anti-gunner,” as the Gun Owners of America organization said during his initial run for president. This perceptions persists despite the fact that the Brady Campaign issued a report card last year failing him on all of the issues it considered important — including closing gun show loopholes and curbing trafficking.

In fact, since taking office, Obama has signed a law permitting guns to be taken into national parks and wildlife refuges and another allowing people to check guns as baggage on Amtrak. During a campaign speech in Virginia back in 2008 he declared: “I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.” If anything, until now the Obama administration’s hands-off attitude toward gun control has paved the way for the campus-carry movement to flourish, while the misperception that he wants to take people’s guns away has been used as an effective tool to bolster support for Second Amendment groups.

The Brady Campaign’s Brian Malte told me that since his organization issued Obama an “F” on his report card for his first year in office, the president has made some steps in the right direction: a few weeks ago he wrote an op-ed piece for the Arizona Star newspaper in which he emphasized the need for failsafe background checks for gun owners. “An unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to buy a gun so easily,” he wrote. And he nominated Andrew Traver to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — a man who has been outspoken on gangs and weapon control, and whose nomination the NRA opposes.

But none of this is likely to have any effect on the lobby to push campus-carry legislation at the state level. And I don’t like the idea of anyone carrying a gun in public, let alone a 21-year-old student fueled by testosterone and alcohol. When I was at university in the mid-’90s, we drank far more than was good for us. Add guns to the mix and it’s a volatile concoction. When you think of it like that: giving guns to young students largely interested in sex and booze, I’d wager it seems less of a genius idea.

Angela Stroud, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, has spent the last two years researching the social meanings of concealed handgun licensing. She’s conducted over 40 interviews and even took the handgun license test herself so she’d be more informed. She told me there are those opposed to guns who consider ‘what’s best for society’, and those who are pro-second amendment for whom the ‘greater good’ does not form part of their argument. “There is a major privileging of the individual,” she said. “And it’s a powerful experience to become enmeshed in this worldview. There’s a fear. Instead of saying that incidents like Virginia Tech rarely happen, they say that even a one-in-a-million chance of being murdered is a frightening thing. They see two major threats — one is a criminal who wants to kill you; the other is a government that wants to control you.”

For me, the argument that you could prevent another Virginia Tech with more guns is fatuous. Guns are designed for one thing only — and the more of them there are, the greater the chance of someone getting hurt. Texas Senator Rodney Ellis issued a statement saying the bill would do nothing to improve the safety of students on campus in his state and could, in fact, make dangerous situations more deadly by creating confusion for law enforcement. “We don’t need to incentivize campus Rambos,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more.

By: Alex Hannaford, The Atlantic, May 5, 2011

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, GOP, Guns, Ideology, Lawmakers, National Rifle Association, Politics, Republicans, State Legislatures, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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