Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.

The Tide is Turning

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.     -George Orwell

 

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Two days ago, the United States Senate, led by Republicans, shot down two sensible amendments designed to prevent terrorists from getting firearms. In their place, they submitted two meaningless NRA sponsored amendments which were also defeated. The votes for all four amendments were primarily along party lines. However, the tide is turning, and there is hope that eventually there will be consensus on a meaningful bill in the Senate.

Elections matter. Voting matters. The parties are not the same. There are always swells and troughs in election cycles leading to whether the Democrats or the Republicans are on top. And in spite of the fact that there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost eight years, it is the Democrats who seem to be riding a wave right now while the Republicans are being washed away as if by a rip tide. Perhaps it is because the person at the top of the Republican ticket is so divisive. Perhaps it is because the Tea Party has run its course, or perhaps it is because the country sees that the Democrats have the most rational response to gun violence. If greater than ninety percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks on all gun sales, it begs the question, just who are the Republicans representing? If the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that a person on the terror watch list should be able to purchase a firearm, to whom are the Republicans answering? The answer could be as simple as the gun lobby. The gun lobby has spent over $36 million to get politicians elected, and they want something for their investment. If this is true, then Republican constituents are without representation as their elected officials do the bidding of the gun lobby instead.

Both Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment and Senator Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment were seemingly written by the NRA and submitted under the senators’ names. They were designed to give the appearance of addressing the problem of gun violence and terrorists’ continued access to firearms, but their actual purpose was disingenuous and deceitful. And finally, the public is beginning to see the difference. The win the NRA chalked up on Monday as all four amendments failed was likely a Pyrrhic victory because by defeating the reasonable amendments offered by Senator Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Republicans emerged as the party defending the rights of terrorists and ISIS. Finally, the Republicans obstructionist activities were on full display (and this only months before the next election). Republican senators were forced to go on record to vote against limiting terrorists’ access to firearms and voting against forcing gun sales at gun shows and over the Internet be subject to a federal background check. Their votes were on the record. And the progress made in this movement to prevent gun injuries and deaths in America, a country awash in guns and the carnage they dispense, is measurable. The Overton Window is shifting.

Following the murder of six educators and twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, a horror so visceral that all Americans thought it would result in a flurry of new gun laws, it took Congress four months to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It failed because of Republicans. Now, as a result of a much better organized gun violence prevention movement and the support of Senator Murphy’s filibuster (along with the support of Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) and 37 other senators) it took four days for a new piece of legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded after Newtown,  generated 8,000 calls into Congress in the months leading up to the vote following the school shooting. Following the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they generated over 60,000 calls. And that is just one of the gun violence prevention organizations working to curb this epidemic. What started out as a Facebook page from a frustrated, angry housewife in Indiana has become a juggernaut in its own right with 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states. This fight has been taken to statehouses across the country and victory after victory is being notched because of it. The tide is turning, and history will be the judge as lives are saved.

So, the NRA and their paid for politicians will continue to obstruct meaningful measures to stem the slaughter, but common sense, compassion, and logic are on the side of the gun violence prevention movement. The NRA’s victory on Monday will be viewed as a hollow victory because change is coming and the NRA’s political influence is about to be washed away. Elections matter and your vote matters and I only hope that reason, logic, and compassion win the day in Washington before the nation is subjected to another mass shooting. These are the silver linings in Monday’s defeat, and they have emboldened those in the gun violence prevention movement to work ever harder to elect a Congress willing to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed caused by gun violence in America. The tide is turning.

Three Years

NewtownIt has been three years since the shooting at Sandy Hook that took 26 lives. Three years with no federal action to prevent the almost 33,000 gun-related deaths every year in America. But that is not to say that there hasn’t been action. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded shortly after the Newtown shooting, has grown into a juggernaut and only added to its power when it joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form the umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. Fed up with federal inaction, Moms and Everytown have taken the fight to the states and squared up directly against the powerful NRA and gun lobby, with meaningful and measurable successes. As Moms Demand Action founder, Shannon Watts writes in today’s CNN:

“Since Sandy Hook, six states have passed background check laws. In 2015, nine states have enacted legislation to protect victims of domestic violence by keeping guns out of the hands of their abusers. We’re playing defense, too: this year we helped defeat 64 gun lobby priority Bill’s, including bills that would have forced guns into schools and bills that would have let people carry concealed, loaded handguns in public with no permit and no training.”

History will prove we are on the right side of this issue, but change will not happen overnight, much as we may like it to. So I urge you to consider standing up with us to change the United States’ outlier position compared to the rest of the developed world in regards to gun violence.  This is a seminal moment in American history. On which side do you want your children to remember you?

A Hero in Full

Sandy and LonnieGrowing up, Pete Rose was my idol. He played baseball like I thought the game should be played. All hustle, all the time. As I grew older, my idols came and went (so did my baseball skills!), and I learned that there is a difference between heroes and idols. I found that idolatry dehumanized the person and ascribed to them mythical attributes. A hero by definition (and by contrast) has done something heroic, but allows for human mistakes and misgivings, in a word imperfections or the right to be just a regular person who has done something extraordinary.

However, to meet a hero in person does give one pause. Not because you ascribe superhuman traits to them, but because you know they have been through something extraordinary, whether wonderful or horrific, and you don’t want to upset them or embarrass yourself by saying something stupid or insensitive.

It was against that backdrop that I met Sandy and Lonnie Phillips last night at an event in downtown Houston. Their beautiful daughter, Jessi, was murdered at the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012. Sandy and Lonnie were in town for a call to action and fundraiser for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots organization started in a kitchen in Indianapolis, IN following the murder of twenty schoolchildren and six educators on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, CT.

Proving that there is a difference between the mythology attributed to idols and the humanization of heroes, right off the bat, both Lonnie and Sandy made it aware to me that they were regular, genuine, gracious people. In fact, when Sandy hugged me at the restaurant where we were to have dinner, she told me she was sorry for my loss. Here I was, ready to give my condolences on the loss of her daughter and she was consoling me on the loss of my wife. And instantly we bonded over our losses. At dinner we talked gun violence prevention, her hope to speak with Senator Sanders regarding his position on the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” (PLCAA) allowing gun manufacturers product liability protection afforded no other product in America, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the NRA and the power they wield over politicians. We also talked about how the upcoming holidays are always a difficult time and how she and Lonnie will be going away again this year to regroup and recharge. Of course, this came up after she asked me what I was doing with the kids and I told her we were going away because none of us wanted to deal with the holidays.

It is the true character of an individual when they can bond with you over something big or small placing you on equal footing. My apprehension over meeting Sandy and Lonnie was misplaced. Both of them are wonderful, ordinary people thrown into a situation they did not choose and who have dedicated their lives to work so that no other parent has to walk the path they have been forced to tread.

In front of a group of about 50 women from the greater Houston area, Sandy and Lonnie described the horror of July 20, 2012 in visceral terms leaving no dry eye in the room. She answered questions and followed it with an amazing statement about how while she is forced to walk this path, she is lifted emotionally by the efforts of those who have come to this movement of their own accord and desire to make America a safer place. This was her call to action and the response from the room was immediate. By the end of the night over $10,000 had been raised and people were encouraged to join Moms Demand Action to do whatever they were comfortable doing knowing that the combined efforts of the organization brought a 3.5 million member counterbalance to the powerful, but aging, NRA and a vocal juggernaut to the halls of Washington, D.C. and statehouses across the country. I am proud to now call her a friend and stand ready to do whatever I can to help make her path even slightly easier.

Jessi’s mom is a genuine, ordinary woman responsible for carrying her daughter’s legacy and message forward while working every day toward a future where no other mother has to endure what she has been forced to live with. That’s what makes her a hero and Jessi should be proud.

Meeting a Hero

Having lost my wife last month and my father in November of last year, I know the awkwardness caring people bring with them when they want to express their condolences. Both my wife and my father died of cancer, an insidious, destructive disease that kills from the inside out. But what do you say to someone who has had a loved one taken from them violently? We anthropomorphize cancer and speak of the “battle” waged against a nefarious foe. But what “battle” can we speak of having been waged against an instantaneous, violent death? It is simply chaos from the cosmos, dropped upon the heads of those who survive. In some cases, it is the Damocles sword of gun violence befalling someone dear to us without warning.

So it will be with my meeting Sandy and Lonnie Phillips tomorrow at a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. As none of you will remember, my very first blog post was simply a reposting of their daughter Jessi’s blog about having just missed a mass shooting at a mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012. She was murdered 48 days later at the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.

In fact, despite continuing to write about it on my little blog, it wasn’t until the murder of twenty schoolchildren and 6 of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School that I was forced to act. It was while listening to a conference call of the Brady Campaign on January 7, 2013, that I heard Jessi’s heartbreaking story told by Sandy Phillips. The next week I was speaking out at Democratic clubs around Houston of the need for action to quell the violence guns were having on American society.

I consider my need to act an outpouring of love for my children. No longer could I look them in the eye and deplore gun violence without taking a stand and working to affect change. Whatever effect I might have (however small), had to be done for my children and their future. However, I attribute any courage I had to speak out publicly to Jessi, Sandy, and the parents and family members of those who were killed at Sandy Hook. But especially Sandy. Because while I had a hard time imagining me ever getting out of bed again should something so horrible befall my children, Sandy was out there speaking and acting, every day, despite the pain of her loss. And I know that change cannot be made without the efforts of those beyond the parents and family members of gun violence victims. People like you. People like me.

At a counter-rally outside the 2014 Annual NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston, I saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hockspung, murdered principal at Sandy Hook Elementary. I also saw the father of one of the murdered children. Despite their proximity and my desire to meet them, I was embarrassed to introduce myself. But was it the simple awkwardness attributed with expressing condolences or was it my guilt for not acting sooner to address gun violence? I don’t know the answer to that. I left them alone, content to stand alongside them that day in opposition to the more guns everywhere agenda of the NRA.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I am nervous, anxious and excited. I consider Sandy Phillips a hero. I don’t want to injure her or embarrass myself by saying something stupid or insensitive. It has been over three years now since I became active in this movement and I’ve seen it gather momentum despite roadblocks and disappointments. So, in spite of my nervousness tomorrow I will meet Sandy Phillips. I admire her too much not to attend.

Stupidity Fatigue

Head in HandsThere is a saying in the lottery industry when the public will not purchase tickets for a seemingly high jackpot called “jackpot fatigue.” It is caused by the ever increasing and ever publicized jackpots always available to the public. The public has seen it all before and heard it all before and nothing new can be said about the jackpot total to get them to the convenience store to purchase a ticket. It’s all been done before.

I find myself suffering a similar kind of fate lately regarding the public at large. Events that used to anger me now no longer pique my interest or at least no longer send me to my computer and my Twitter feed where I would once fire off a pithy comment. Twitter especially has become the bastion of trolls ready to engage in bumper sticker based retorts and troglodyte tantrums rather than the necessary thought out debates. It is the AM radio of the internet.

I feel guilty for abandoning those things about which I am still passionately concerned: gun violence prevention, women’s rights, protecting my children from all manner of political stupidity, animal welfare, etc., etc, but I know that there are still those out there whom I trust to carry the ball downfield while I suffer this miasmatic ennui. I still read and I still write, just not at the same temperature as before.

Right now there are about 300 GOP candidates running for president, so there is still time for me to come out of this spin and focus the laser. Right now the moms and dads of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are meeting in Minneapolis to discuss next steps. In another universe, a universe where I wasn’t working with hospice to care for my dying wife, I would have joined them to learn what I could do to better fight gun violence in blood soaked America. But that is not the universe in which I currently reside. I do not make excuses, but only present facts. I am tired, physically and mentally.

I am tired of the stupidity of the southern white male with his pickup truck emblazoned with hunting decals and NRA stickers, tired of the stupidity of religious hypocrites festooned with Christian stickers on their cars and quick to criticize anyone not their mirror image. I am tired of the stupidity of the 300 GOP candidates running for president who are fighting for air time by reaching for the lowest common denominator in their demographic and ultimately the shallowest of the public gene pool. I am tired of cancer and the stupidity of its suicidal march toward the murder of its host. I am tired of the stupidity. I am suffering from stupidity fatigue.