Today is a National Day of Action Against Gun Violence, with activities in nearly 150 locations around the United States. Events were co-hosted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Organizing for Action, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Hunters Against Gun Violence, and a number of other local and national organizations. Even Breitbart.com gave us a name for this day: GunControlapalooza and did us the favor of listing some of the events. We have arrived!
North Carolina, the Tar Heel State, featured events from one side of the state to the other. This morning in Durham, Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, and Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe joined with community members who have experienced gun violence. This evening, a community gathering in Raleigh's Moore Square featured speakers from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, as well as Forward Americans founder and citizen lobbyist Jen Geurin Ferrell and yours truly, MsSpentyouth (Kim Erickson Yaman).
And the best news: As of this afternoon, Sen. Hagan's staff indicates that we can persuade Sen. Kay Hagan -- one of the lone Democratic holdouts on common-sense gun-reform legislation -- to step forward with key public announcements in the coming days.
The Durham event was well-attended and featured Effie Steele, a Durham woman who lost her daughter Ebony and grandson Elijah to a shooting five years ago.
"[Ebony and Elijah's] killer, Kenneth White, had been molesting [Ebony] since age 16," Steele said, "and had threatened her life if she told.There was a small contingent of counterprotesters at Durham City Hall, but the mayors present kept the focus on the effects of gun violence in our communities. A couple members of our local efforts, Forward Americans and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, even sat down and talked with some of the counterprotesters after the event was brought to an early but gracious close by Mayor Kleinschmidt. The pro-gun extremists expressed their concerns that any type of reform would lead to confiscation of guns and then a civil war perpetrated by President Obama upon citizens of the United States.
"He held her in bondage with fear and control for many years. She got free of that fear the night before she was murdered," Steele said. "That is why it is so important that we require background checks to keep mentally ill, deranged, and dangerous people from purchasing guns legally and so easily."
However, a couple of their members were reasonable to a point and engaged in civil discussions with the women who spoke with them. One of our local group leaders who attended both the Durham and Raleigh events wrote in an email:
[One gun-rights supporter] and I stayed and talked for 15 more minutes--nice guy, the most civil I have encountered. But concerned about an impending war between civilians and our government.Needless to say, those of us gearing up for the Raleigh event were concerned about a local gun-rights/survivalist bloggers' efforts to whip up a crowd for the evening event. But it didn't come to pass. As we put up our banner and a table for petitions at Raleigh's Moore Square Park, only a tiny handful of counterprotesters showed up.
We had a good crowd for our gathering and candlelight vigil in Raleigh. About 35-40 community members braved the briskly cold winds and the rush-hour traffic and joined us underneath Raleigh's giant acorn statue (Raleigh is the City of Oaks, you know).
After introductions by the new Triangle field coordinator for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Meera Bhardwaj, Jen Geurin Ferrell spoke about her activism. Ferrell, the mother of 3-year-old twins, was called to action in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings.
"I think about my twins being separated from each other," says Ferrell, "and then I think of Noah Pozner's twin 6 year old sister Arielle being a brave girl and then young woman as she continues her life without him and it takes my breath away with sadness.
"What we're talking about is truth and fact. We've been delaying so much talk of gun reform for too long, and many of us have just had it and refuse to be quiet another day!"
I then spoke about my experience at the University of Iowa campus in 1991, when a graduate student killed five people, gravely wounded another, and then killed himself. My children, then 10 and 4, and I were in Van Allen Hall that day for a Turkish folkdance rehearsal, and we spent much of the afternoon huddled on an office floor, locked in a hoping we were safe.
That day, all those years ago, washes back over me every time there's another mass shooting. My grandchildren are now 10, 5, and 3, and all we've done in all those years to address the increasing incidents of gun violence with increasing numbers of casualties is to train our children how to live in a war-torn country. Schools across the U.S. teach children to hide in bathrooms and cupboards and under desks during "Active Shooter" lockdown drills. But we can do better than that. We have to do better than that.
We then asked everyone present to take out their cell phones and call Sen. Kay Hagan's offices in DC, Raleigh, and Greensboro and leave messages urging her to support a universal background check and a ban on weapons of war and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Sen. Hagan's position on these issues has been slowly evolving. Although the senator has not come forward with a public statement, Hagan's office staff have indicated that she supports "beefed-up background checks" -- though they avoid the term "universal background checks." They also indicate that if she hears from enough constituents, she may reconsider her opposition to an assault-weapons ban.
Here in North Carolina, we take those as hopeful signs. It is not easy for a North Carolina senator up for reelection in 2014 to step forward as a leader on gun reform. But we've got her back. If she'll do the right thing, we'll do right by her.
And those are the calls we made: "Thank you, Sen. Hagan, for serving us and for supporting equal rights for all couples who wish to marry, and thank you for supporting stronger background checks. And we're here for you on the assault-weapons ban. We have your back, Senator. Do the right thing."
All we can do is hope. We hope that Congress will take action before too many more Newtowns and Auroras and Iowa Cities and Killenes and Tucsons take place. Before too many more of our military service veterans take their own lives at the barrel of a gun. Before too many more children, grandchildren, and parents die.
And we can demand action. We can call, write, Tweet, Facebook, and email our lawmakers and demand that they represent our interests for safety and the general welfare of our families, our communities, our nation. We can speak up, speak out, and reach out.
Sen. Kay Hagan: 202-224-6342.