Local Moms Demand Action Leaders Show Movement Is About Common Sense Gun-Violence Prevention
The images in the video are chilling. It was released last week as part of a campaign sponsored by Sandy Hook Promise, a group formed by parents and community members impacted by the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.. What starts out like a Target back-to-school commercial quickly brings to life the terrors that some of our children have faced and will face in what will inevitably be the next school shooting. It is very effective and almost too hard to watch.
There is another group of community members getting involved in the issue of gun safety awareness. A local chapter of Moms Demand Action recently formed in State College. The national organization began in the days after Sandy Hook and is part of a larger organization called Everytown for Gun Safety. There are chapters in every state, including 14 regional groups in Pennsylvania. In the Centre Region, local parents and other concerned citizens are coming together to raise awareness about the issue of gun common sense.
I had been seeing the local chapter’s status updates and pictures on Facebook. Parents in red shirts, working a table near Schlow Library to raise awareness. Some of those same parents in red shirts meeting with our local legislators in Harrisburg. After a yoga class a few weeks ago when I practiced on the mat next to the local Moms Demand Action chapter leader, Maggie Ellis, I asked her about it. She graciously agreed to meet with me and invited me to her home to talk with the other chapter leaders.
It was an emotional evening.
On my way to Maggie’s house, I wondered if I was about to walk into an anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment barrage and wasn’t sure how I would respond. My husband is an avid hunter and gun owner. We have guns in our home but I’m not sure I would be able to find the key to open our locked gun cabinet, locate the hidden ammunition and load a gun, let alone fire one. We are responsible gun owners. In rural areas like central Pennsylvania, where hunting is a part of life and kids learn gun safety at a young age, gun laws and gun restrictions are a hot-button political topic. In the end, I left our meeting armed with information and enthusiasm.
I met with Maggie, as well as fellow yogi and chapter legislative chairperson Lori Weider. I met membership chair Sharon Hyde and fundraising chair Cari Gustafson. Sitting in Maggie’s living room, we could have been a book club or friends getting together for wine. No picket signs. No bullhorn. No radical anti-gun language.
The movement is about common sense.
“We just want to have conversations,” said Weider. “We aren’t trying to take guns away from anyone. Our goal is to be able to come together and talk about gun safety because of our community’s children.
“For some people, we aren’t radical enough.”
With parallels to the grassroots efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), Moms Demand Action hopes to bring the conversation of gun safety to the forefront. The goal is to turn down the political heat of the gun safety dialogue and make it OK to talk about — much like we do now with identifying designated drivers and the ease with which we say “let me take your keys” when a friend or family member has had too much to drink. Based on our collective success at making wearing a seat belts a habit, Moms Demand Action suggests we can do the same with gun safety.
“Moms is a gun violence prevention group” said Ellis. “We have members who are gun owners. We want to be able to have open conversations starting with the simple reminder to lock up your guns. Just by making guns in the home harder to access, particularly in homes with teens, we can save lives.”
The statistics show that the majority of gun deaths in the United States are a result of suicides.
Moms Demand Action is a non-partisan organization with more 6 million moms, dads, community members and volunteers nationwide. The group is diverse and includes people from all political viewpoints.
“Many of our local members are the parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers” said Hyde.
“They want to get involved,” Ellis added, “because they are scared to send their children to school.”
Ellis and Weider agreed that the Parkland shooting served as the impetus for each of them to get involved. For Hyde, it was living near Sandy Hook at the time of the shooting. Moving to State College several years ago hasn’t changed her motivation to make change.
For Gustafson, it was an off-hand comment made by one of her own children. In a conversation about a school shooting, her teen said school shootings were “just a fact of life.”
“I was shocked,” said Gustafson. “I knew I had to do something.”
Active shooter drills are now a part of our children’s school routines. First graders practicing learning to hide in a space that is supposed to be safe for learning. Kitty litter boxes in classrooms in some districts in the event of a lockdown and students not having access to a restroom. Parents being asked to provide a storage bag with two juice boxes and an extra pair of underwear for storing in the classroom in the event of an extended situation.
Between math and science, lunch and recess and art, we are teaching our children that adults may not be able to keep them safe.
In addition to the goals of dialogue and education of kids and parents about gun safety, Moms Demand Action has worked with legislators in Harrisburg to support efforts to restrict gun access in situations of domestic violence and, just last week, proposed legislation for extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag” laws.
As the local Moms Demand Action leaders and I talked about perceptions and misinformation and where our local legislators stand, the group expressed frustration.
“It’s not NRA members” said Weider. “Almost 90 percent of Americans agree that better background checks are a good idea.” She added, “It’s not gun owners who disagree. It’s the powerful gun lobby and the gun manufacturers who are pushing back.”
I’m thinking that a politician who stands up for common sense in anything these days might get a few more votes.
As I drove home that evening, I had a renewed sense of community. A grassroots effort, made up of people who care, coming together for the greater good. That is how it is supposed to work. Moms Demand Action don’t want to take away guns. Their laser focus on educating the public about something as simple as locking up your guns isn’t political or anti-Second Amendment. They are trying to prevent the horrors that are depicted so well in the video. They want common sense with guns which just makes sense.
Pennsylvania Moms Demand Action members participate in a Day of Action at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. Photo provided