Yesterday, hundreds of moms, grandmoms, and others were in Washington DC to take part in Moms Take the Hill Day. The event was hosted by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and offered opportunities to speak directly with legislators to urge them to sponsor, co-sponsor, and/or support common-sense policies to address gun violence in our country.
Four of us from North Carolina took part and spoke with five of our legislators whose offices accepted invitations to take meetings with us. We were joined by three South Carolinians, because all but one South Carolina legislator failed to respond to repeated attempts to schedule meetings with their constituents.
The seven of us -- Elizabeth, Bernardine, Ann, Maria del Pilar, Margaret, Lisa, and myself -- spoke with the staffs of five senators and representatives from North Carolina, and one representative who spoke with us himself. Moms Take the Hill efforts also were the subject of a Congressional press conference and were the audience for a presidential policy briefing.
Want to know how things went?
Follow the orange brick road!
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (MDA) started in December 2012 the day after a gunman killed his own mother and then murdered 20 young schoolchildren and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Shannon Watts, a mother and a public-relations professional, started a simple Facebook page to reach out to others across the U.S and the world who were set reeling by these heartbreaking deaths. That Facebook page started out with a few Likes. Three months later, MDA has more than 80,000 members and an entire movement fueling it to expand efforts to address gun violence sensibly and rapidly, before the frequency and casualty figures of "Active Shooter Incidents" take more victims.
One result of the post-Sandy Hook MDA movement here in North Carolina has been the establishment of the Cary NC Kitchen Table Group. We started out in January as a casual but impassioned group of community members deeply troubled by the scope of gun violence and the crickets-and-tumbleweeds approaches to addressing it. By mid-February, our group leader had convened a small-group meeting with an aide to Sen. Richard Burr that about 15 of us attended; afterwards, 12 of us traveled to Dunn NC to meet with staff of Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Tea Party Republican who was handed a newly gerrymandered district that split Rep. David Price's district into three districts.
By the end of February, our little group had grown to nearly 250 members, most of us in the Raleigh suburbs of Cary, Apex, Morrisville, and Holly Springs. So far, we've met with five state and U.S. legislators in their home district offices, and more meetings are scheduled.
While waiting for the start of a confab in late February with staff for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in the senator's Raleigh office, we all wondered what was next. A few MDA members had joined us there and let us know about the Moms Take the Hill Day event, and several Kitchen Table Group members were determined to take part.
"We all know what happens when concerned parents make it their mission to protect children. I don't know how the Hill will possibly withstand the voices and power of moms."Yesterday started early for my roommate Elizabeth and me, with a set of iPhone alarms and a wake-up call scheduled for 5 a.m. But neither Elizabeth nor I could wait for the alarms; we were too charged up and ready to take on the Hill. We boarded a bus at 7 a.m. to get through security and attend an 8:30 White House policy briefing. Several White House staff members spoke with us about the bills coming before Congress on the top four issues confronting these first steps toward common-sense legislation: weapons and ammunition trafficking, an assault-weapons ban, universal background checks, and background checks addressing high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The briefing was engaging, succinct, and informative. Overviews of current bills making their way through Congress were provided by staff from the White House Community Engagement and Intergovernment Affairs Office, the Economic and Domestic Policy Office, the Office of the Vice President, the White House Council on Women and Girls, Office of Public Engagement, the White House Legislative Affairs Office, and ...............
..................... Valerie Jarrett, special advisor to the president, who was passing by toward another meeting and took time to greet us and cheer us on.
The president himself was heading up to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican legislators to discuss the need to address gun violence with common-sense laws and bipartisan efforts. Currently, there are no Republicans on board with any efforts to address our national gun-violence epidemic. The uphill/up-Hill battle was made more difficult when House Speaker John Boehner was faced with blackmail in last fall's Fiscal Cliff at the OK Corral: If he continues to make noises about compromising with Democrats, the GOP will strip him of his leadership position.
Democrats in Congress and the White House have their work cut out for them.
To people who say that changing gun laws in the U.S. is impossible, we were reminded of the culture change that came about after Mothers Against Drunk Driving started demanding laws and policies to decrease traffic fatalities resulting from driving under the influence.
"Don't let loopholes drive legislation."With this quote and a reminder that we were there to talk about what we and our families want from our elected leaders, we set forth with our schedules for taking the Hill.
"The rhetoric of misunderstanding and misinformation."I will explore our visits with individual legislators' offices in future diaries throughout the coming week. For tonight (just a couple hours after arriving back home), I'd like to focus on what Sen. Kay Hagan's staff described as "the rhetoric of misunderstanding and misinformation" that has flooded the phone and staff capacities of our senators and representatives.
Our group of seven Carolinians first met with Philip Newman of the office of Representative Tim Meadows (R-NC-11). Meadows is a junior representative and has a large number of vocal constituents who seem to be concerned about a government civil war against citizens -- particularly gun-owning citizens. Philip told us about the number of visits and phone calls by western North Carolina constituents who firmly believe that the President of the United States plans to create a database of people who own guns and then wage a war that pits the U.S. military against the citizenry after seizing all guns owned by citizens.
We discussed the need to utilize critical-thinking skills to apply qualitative analyses to articulations of extreme fear and not rely strict on the number of comments but the content of such comments. Are 100 expressions of fears of gun seizure weighed as equal to 25 calls for common-sense laws?
Staff from four of the five legislators we talked with mentioned the large volume of "irrational" (yes, three staff members of Republican legislators used that term) concerns brought forward.
But only Rep. David Price (D-NC-4) demonstrated willingness to stand up to these accusations and to sponsor, co-sponsor, and publicly support legislation addressing the realities of gun violence. Rep. Price, who is vice chair of the Gun Violence Task Force headed by Vice President Biden, met with us himself for more than half an hour of discussion. The task force has developed 15 recommendations and is working with a passel of organizations, such as Mayors against Illegal Guns, the Brady Foundation, and North Carolinians against Gun Violence.
Because of threats of intra-party reprisals and constituent backlash for working with Democrats on this and other issues, not a single Republicans stepped forward to join the Gun Violence Task Force. But Rep. Price noted that a few Republican Congressmembers have quietly approached task force members about possibilities for involvement.
Overall, 1) the issue of "the rhetoric of misinformation and misunderstanding" seems to be of primary concern to many legislators on Capitol Hill; 2) despite the increasing numbers of constituents and even legislators who have been personally touched by gun violence, Republic legislators are under tremendous pressure not to publicly support or even indicate they are considering common-sense gun laws and policies.
I'll wrote more in the coming days about other things heard/said during Moms Take the Hill Day. In the meantime, please do contact your senators and representatives about the need for common-sense legislation to address gun violence. Faxes and emails are best for Capitol Hill offices; snail-mail letters (individually written or addressed, or printed copies of your Capitol Hill emails), phone calls, and in-person visits are very effective for home-district offices.
In the 21 years since my own children and I were among those crouching on the floor of an office in Van Allen Hall at the University of Iowa while a gunman killed five people, gravely wounded a friend of ours, and then shot himself, the only progress we've made in addressing gun violence is to train our children to hide in a bathroom, art supply closet, or science cupboard during "Active Shooter Lockdowns" in their schools. Yeah. We're training our children for wartime defense, because it's "too hard" for us to stand up to irrational fears of an imaginary civil war perpetrated by "the government."