Editor’s Note: I have a friend who has an adorable 3-year-old son in preschool. Shortly after the Florida school shooting in February that claimed 17 lives, she expressed her growing anxiety about sending her son off to preschool every day. “I want to do something, but I have no idea what to do,” she said. “What can I do?” It turns out, a lot. The night before, I sat in an audience at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport and listened to Mary Ann Jacob, one of the survivors of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown five years ago. As a gunman entered the school and began his killing spree, Jacob led 20 children to safety, hiding with them in a storage closet. Now an outspoken advocate for gun safety, Jacob wrote the following essay in response to my question: “What can the average woman do to help protect her children from gun violence?”
By MARY ANN JACOB
While the epidemic of gun violence in this country causes a ripple effect through families and communities, it affects women particularly hard. Domestic violence, mass shootings, day to day gun violence and suicide rip families apart every day, and women are most often the ones left to pick up the pieces of their families’ lives.
I know this personally, because on Dec.14, 2012, a gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook School while I was working in the library. As the gunman blasted his way through the hallway killing our principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung and our school psychologist Mary Sherlach, then two classrooms where he killed 20 first graders and four more educators, the rest of the staff was frantically hiding and protecting the children in their care.
When those of us who survived went home later that day, the first thing we had to do was be strong for our own children, several of whom also survived the shooting that day, and many of whom were school-aged children in other community schools. I can remember walking up to my front door, putting my hand on the doorknob and thinking, “Pull yourself together, you are about to see your two sons,” before I turned the handle. Within hours of surviving one of the worst mass shootings this country has ever seen, we had no choice but to put aside our own grief and trauma to take care of those around us.
Don’t be fooled, this is not a partisan political issue but a public health crisis like this country hasn’t seen since the outbreak of AIDS.
When the time came to return to school a few weeks later, we were faced with the choice of whether to take care of ourselves or others. The school district floated the idea of bringing in substitute teachers if we were not up to returning, but not one staff member thought the kids should return to a school full of strangers. Without exception, the staff at Sandy Hook School chose to be there to greet the surviving children as they returned to an unfamiliar school in a neighboring town. We held each other up as the days and weeks wore on so we could be there day in and day out for the students…because that’s what women do.
As time progressed and we grew stronger, many of us chose to add our voices to those calling for an end to the gun violence assaulting our schools, churches, offices and homes. We could no longer stand by while more children died day after day.
Eighteen months after the shooting at our school, I reached my own personal tipping point. I watched on TV as the horror unfolded after the shooting in Isla Vista, CA. I was shaken to my core as I watched Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was killed in that shooting, give his impassioned plea “Not One More” person be taken by gun violence. And I knew then it was my time to stand up and speak out.
I joined Everytown for Gun Safety and learned about the many issues surrounding gun violence in our country today:
+ 96 Americans are killed by guns every day.
+ Black men are 13 times more likely to be shot and killed with a gun than white men.
+ Over 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner every month.
Who picks up the pieces of these families? Women.
So it’s no surprise that the effort to end gun violence has galvanized women across the country into action. Since the Sandy Hook School shooting millions of people – many of them women, have joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – an organization started by Shannon Watts in her kitchen following the shooting. We have almost as many members as the NRA and they’ve been around for over 100 years longer than we have.
Following the Feb. 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, FL., students have taken control of the conversation and infused the movement with new energy. More than 150,000 people have signed up to be volunteers with Moms Demand Action since the Parkland shooting and our movement is only growing stronger.
As I travel around speaking with groups about this epidemic of gun violence, many people thank me and ask me what they can do to help. Women especially, who are tired of seeing their children cry as they board the school bus, or afraid their children will be shot walking home from school in their neighborhood streets, have had enough.
We are marching, calling our elected officials, writing letters, educating others and running for office. This is a grassroots effort that has a place for each and every woman who is willing to take a stand. In 2018, more than 79 women are exploring runs for governor, more than double a record set in 1994. The women challenging incumbents in the US House of Representatives is roughly 350% higher than in 2016. Expect us – we are coming!
Women . . . have had enough.
Seven children and teens are killed with guns on an average day and many are the result of adults leaving loaded weapons around where children can find them. The BeSmart campaign teaches families about safe storage in their own homes. Women can lead the way by spreading the word, supporting the program and simply asking if guns are in the homes they visit. PTAs can be instrumental in supporting the effort in individual communities. Women physicians are spreading the word as they meet with families and children in their practices every day. Talking about gun sense should be as routine as pool safety, wearing a helmet on a bicycle and wearing a seatbelt.
Nearly 62% of the firearms deaths in the U.S. are suicides. Suicide is often an impulsive act and survivors rarely make a second attempt. But firearms are the most lethal means of committing suicide and individuals rarely survive the attempt to get treatment. As mothers, sisters and children we have firsthand knowledge of how suicide affects families for generations. Ensuring that our loved ones who may pose a danger to themselves don’t have access to guns is an effective way to reduce these numbers.
Background checks should be required for 100% of gun purchases in all states. We know that over 3,000,000 gun sales to dangerous people have been stopped by them. We can work with our representatives locally and in Washington to ensure that a criminal background check is made on all gun sales. They are the single most effective tool to keep guns out of the hands of people with dangerous mental illnesses. And please, when confronted with the ridiculous argument that criminals don’t follow laws, ask why it is we have any laws at all? We know that car safety has increased because of a comprehensive package of laws that include air bags, graduated licensing laws, stricter DUI enforcement, driver education and speed limits. Do people still speed? Of course, but many lives are saved nonetheless.
In addition to running for office, we as women can research and support candidates who reflect our values. Don’t be fooled, this is not a partisan political issue but a public health crisis like this country hasn’t seen since the outbreak of AIDS. We have the power to choose how we respond every day, and who we choose to represent us at a local, state and national level. Ask each and every candidate who wants your support what their positions are. And if those holding elected office or running for office put the interests of the gun lobby before the safety of our families, it’s time to vote them out. Click here if you’d like to support those efforts: https://everytown.org/throwthemout/
We have learned from the students in Parkland that we don’t need traditional media to keep the conversation going, just our smartphones and some pointed social media work. Corporations are beginning to jump on board one by one and refusing to do business with companies that manufacture guns or support their distribution. You can help drive more change by choosing who you do business with, where you invest your money and where you bank. Let the companies that are doing it right know you support them with your purchases, and for the ones who are getting it wrong, they will learn the hard way.
Finally, pick up your phone and text the word JOIN to 64433. Join us at Everytown for Gun Safety today. We will keep you informed about the issues facing your community as well as nationally. We cannot expect our leaders to change unless we are willing to do the heavy lifting. We know what to do, so let’s get to work. We are women – we can and will do this.
Carolyn Milazzo Murphy is CT-NOW blog editor.