I’m not much of a crier, but on the morning of February 15, after my kids got out of the car, I burst into tears in the elementary school drop-off lane. As they jumped out, I said to them, as I do every morning: “I love you, have a great day, I’ll see you after school,” but for the first time, I was not 100 percent sure that I would.
Mass shootings, which at one time, would have seemed unthinkable, were happening with stunning frequency. It seemed entirely possible that before I saw them at 3pm, I might see them on the news being led from their school, in our quiet suburban town, by a SWAT team.
That morning, back at home, I watched the news reports of the horrific events in Parkland, Florida. This was not the first time I listened to a report of a mass shooting, nor the first time I watched footage of children evacuating their school, hands on their heads.
I’ve made donations and signed the online petitions. I’ve shared the social media posts, tweeted, and called my local representatives, but it became clear to me on the morning of February 15 that this was no longer enough.
As I was coming to the realization that my somewhat passive activism was woefully inadequate, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were just beginning the process of turning their horror and grief into what would become the March For Our Lives Movement.
On Saturday, March 24, the country witnessed the sheer power of a generation frustrated with the ineffectiveness of a government entrusted with their safety. So much has been said and written about the eloquence, poise, and passion of the MSD student organizers, and the question now is: How can we continue to support the March For Our Lives Movement? How do we as parents, along with our children, take their conviction and help turn it into legislation?
Moms Demand Action was formed in response to the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut and has been advocating for common sense gun legislation since 2012.
I sat down with Lisa O’ Donoghue, the co-lead of Moms Demand Action, Bergen County New Jersey Local Group. A former Wall Street executive, raising two teenagers in New Jersey, Lisa grew up in Connecticut. She became involved with Mons Demand Action after the shootings at Sandy Hook where her high school friend, Principal Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung was fatally shot while confronting the shooter.
Lisa and I talked about what families can do to get involved in the fight for stronger gun laws.
How can parents and students get involved in the fight for common sense gun legislation?
Joining Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a great way to get involved. Moms Demand Action was formed in 2012, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, by Shannon Watts, a stay-at-home mom in Indiana. The non-partisan, grassroots organization, which just commemorated five years of GVP (gun violence prevention) activism, has chapters in all 50 states with over 4 million members. Together with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, we are part of Everytown for Gun Sense in America. We are “Mothers and Others,” and welcome anyone who wants to work toward reducing gun violence in our communities. Since the Parkland tragedy, we have launched Students Demand Action to harness the energy and momentum and continue the work that the students of Parkland have started with the youth of our country.
How can we get educated on current gun laws and how they potentially affect us?
Everytown has an extensive research arm that covers all the issues and legislation on the state and federal level, and it’s all available for free on their website. A primary focus of Moms Demand/Everytown on the national level is defeating the dangerous agenda of the gun lobby that is pushing guns everywhere for everyone. The bill now in the Senate, called “Concealed Carry Reciprocity,” would force every state to accept the concealed carry laws of states with much weaker laws.
How do we find out who our representatives are and where they stand on gun laws?
It’s good idea to know who your legislators are and where they stand on all of the issues that are important to you. If you don’t know them already you can visit the following websites:
In NJ, visit njleg.state.nj.us and search by town or district, then check the voting records of your lawmakers; in New York, visit nysenate.gov to find your state senator and search under issue Gun Violence Prevention; the assembly members can be found at assembly.state.ny.us, and likewise their voting records. Once you have the names and contact information for each, you can also pick up the phone and ask their staff members where they have voted on GVP and what current bills they support.
How can we let our representatives know how we feel about gun legislation and school safety?
Our legislators need to hear from us! Call the offices of your State and Congressional lawmakers, email them, tweet them, and let them know that you want them to support common sense gun legislation that protects our families, including universal background checks for all gun sales, keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, including domestic abusers, and ensuring that gun owners responsibly store their weapons. We need to make our voices heard, especially with gun violence prevention issues, because the gun lobby is very active and vocal in this arena. In fact, opponents of gun sense legislation have “out-called” gun sense advocates in the past by a 4-to-1 ratio.
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How can educators express their feelings on arming teachers in the classrooms?
Moms Demand Action has a specific group just for teachers called Educators for Gun Sense. Any educators who are interested can join by texting EDUCATOR to 644-33 to be connected to the group. The actions will be similar to what we do as Moms Demand—calling local legislators and town Board of Education members, writing letters to the editor, and making their views heard by the decision-makers.
Why has it been so difficult to pass common sense legislation in the past?
It’s a complicated issue, and both sides have strong feelings about guns. Pressure from the gun lobby has led to a virtual stalemate in Congress, but we believe the states can lead the way. We all need to get past the polarizing aspects of the debate to focus on what we can all agree on—the safety of our children and our communities. Research shows that having more guns does not make us safer, but since we know guns are in every community, we need to talk to each other about the presence of guns in the home. If we can have conversations locally about how to prevent gun violence, we can start to move the needle toward fewer gun deaths.
What are the biggest misconceptions about groups like Moms Demand Action?
Some gun owners believe that Moms Demand Action wants to take their guns away. The reality is that we are supportive of the Second Amendment, but we feel that reasonable limits on where, when, and who can own and carry firearms are vital for the safety of our communities. This view is in line with the Heller opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2008 that defines how the right to bear arms is interpreted today.
Another misconception is that we are “partisan” or “political.” The fact is, we have many members across the country whose views range from conservative to liberal but we all agree that gun violence is a public health crisis that knows no political distinctions. We have garnered the support of many Republican governors in passing bills that remove guns from the hands of domestic abusers in states as varied as Louisiana and Nevada.
Are there other groups MDA is affiliated with that parents can support?
There are several other groups working for gun violence prevention today, and we work closely with many of them on local, state, and national levels. Here in Bergen County, we have a great relationship with the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, which was named for President Reagan’s secretary James Brady who was shot and paralyzed in 1988. We participate with The Coalition for Peace Action, and we also work with Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly’s organization Giffords.
February 15, 2018 was not the first time I’ve watched news reports of a mass shooting in our country, but following the young leaders of March For Our Lives, I am hopeful it will be the last.
Mary Ann Malone Schwanewede lives in New Jersey and is the mother of three boys. A former record company executive, and current entrepreneur, she is the inventor of the StrollAway over-the-door stroller hanger. She is a member of Moms Demand Action Bergen County.