Connecticut Moms Mobilize for Gun Violence Prevention in Wake of Shootings
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Despite such roadblocks, the group—which counts a number of gun owners in its ranks—is heartened by the passage of Connecticut’s recent gun legislation. Undeterred by the recent Senate defeat of a bill that would expand background checks, MDA has now turned its attention to Congress with a special Mother’s Day initiative: Members are tweeting, emailing, snail-mailing and hand-delivering eight paper flowers (to honor the eight mothers who lose children to gun violence each day in America) and a copy of their Moms Bill of Rights to their Congressional representatives.
Politicians who fail to respond do so at their peril, says Lewis. “It was women who helped decide the presidential election in 2012, she says. “We will make sure our voices are heard in the upcoming 2014 midterms.” Adds Baekey, “For us, it’s no longer a ‘debate’ or a ‘conversation.’ Talking has gotten us nowhere. Every single day, more than 87 people in this country are killed by guns. Enough is enough.”
Following the death of her son in 2002, Henrietta Beckman and a group of other grieving mothers who had recently lost sons or daughters to gun violence met at the Johnson-Stewart Community Center, in Hartford’s troubled North End. “Basically, we wanted to form a group that would give support to families like ours—and would speak justice,” says Beckman. “There are a lot of homicide cases like mine that are still unsolved.”
Ten years on, Mothers United Against Violence (MUAV) still holds meetings the first Monday of every month at Hartford’s Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry. “I see all mothers who lost their child to violence as members, even if they don’t come to meetings,” Beckman says. MUAV also holds public vigils for Hartford’s victims of gun crime. “Families appreciate your coming out and showing support for their loss,” she says, though the events can sometimes open old wounds. “Every time you hear of another shooting, it just does something to you. We’re doing these vigils all the time—there are times when I just can’t go.”
In the last few years, the organization has reached out to do programs at local high schools and elementary schools. “The kids are very receptive,” Beckman says. “They all can relate. The saddest thing is when you go to the elementary schools and ask the kids how many of them have lost someone, and almost half the hands in the auditorium go up.” MUAV works closely with the youth-violence intervention programs Save Our Streets and Hartford Communities that Care. The organization also has a strong relationship with the Hartford Police Department. “Whenever we do vigils we have police protection. And if we have any information on a particular gun-homicide case, we relay it to them—discreetly,” she notes.
MUAV’s most dramatic public action over the last five years has been its annual March, Memorial and Rally, held this year on March 30. Marchers carried crosses for every victim of Hartford gun violence since 2000 (on that day, totaling 360) to the steps of the state capitol. Five hundred participants turned out to hear speeches from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gov. Malloy and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra (who, as a child, lost his father to gun violence). In a show of solidarity, the members of Team 26—Newtown cyclists who earlier in the month had traveled 400 miles by bike to Washington, D.C., to raise support for gun-control legislation—also attended.
In the future, Beckman would like to see more services developed for Hartford children who are orphaned by guns. “In Sandy Hook, they had all these different activities for kids to help them cope,” she says. “Our kids get absolutely nothing. They probably feel like nobody really cares. I’d like to see scholarships for them, too—so they don’t wind up falling through the cracks and choosing violence themselves.”
When Senate Republicans threatened a filibuster of gun-control legislation, members of the Newtown Action Alliance (NAA) responded with “Filibuster the Filibuster: Newtown Deserves a Vote,” a two-day event at Edmond Town Hall at which NAA members read aloud the names of all 3,346 Americans killed by guns since Sandy Hook. “I stood on the town hall stairs in the rain from 9 p.m. until just after 2 p.m. with a handful of others, including a woman who drove up from Brooklyn at midnight,” says Erin Nikitchyuk.
At the end of March, the group organized a protest in front of Newtown’s National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), part of the nationwide “Day to Demand Action” called by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “Protesting in front of the trade association for the gun industry seemed like a good choice,” Nikitchyuk says. “It happens to be pretty convenient, right in the center of town.” Says NAA co-founder Jennifer Killin, “That action had been on our minds since our group began—and it won’t be the last time we do it, unless the NSSF starts supporting commonsense gun laws.”
One area the NAA is particularly focused on is communication—between legislators and constituents, between parents and children, between advocates for gun legislation and gun owners. “This is not primarily a political issue; it’s about what happened in Newtown and what continues to happen on streets across the country every day,” says Nikitchyuk. “We all need to focus on what we can do in meaningful ways to reduce violence.” Toward that end, the NAA has created NAA Junior, a stand-alone teen group charged with developing their own solutions to gun violence. Last month members of NAA Junior attended PeaceJam New England, a conference at the University of Connecticut featuring 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams. The topic: True Human Security.