Wednesday, October 29, 2014

87 school shootings since Newtown

The horrific shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School on October 24, last Friday, raises the number of school shootings since Newtown to 87. That's 87 school shootings in less than 2 years. Not particularly encouraging.

According to, the shooter, Jaylen Fryberg, a popular freshman, was recently named the school's homecoming prince.

Earlier that day, Fryberg texted a selfie with a gun to his ex-girlfriend, and he sent texts to several of his friends and to his cousin inviting them to sit at the same table with him for lunch in the cafeteria.

He used a family member's gun to shoot  Zoe Galasso, 14, Gia Soriano, 14, Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, 14, Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Nate Hatch, 14, and finally himself.

Zoe Galasso died and Jaylen Fryberg at the scene.  Gia Soriano died in the hospital, Sunday night. Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Andrew Fryberg are in critical condition. Nate Hatch is in satisfactory condition.

The fact that Fryberg was popular and not an outsider or a victim of bullying doesn't fit the standard profile of a school shooter. Neither does his targeting his friends and family.

What is more disturbing to me is that once again, the shooter's gun was taken from a family member in his home. Washington State does not have child access prevention laws, which would hold the adult gun owner criminally liable, who did not properly store and lock up his gun. Approximately half the states have child access prevention laws. New York does not. Read here about the efforts being made to pass Nicholas's Bill: The Child Access Prevention or Safe Storage Act.

It is my great hope that one day in the not too distant future, all 50 states will have child access prevention laws.

Here is a good article by Gail Thomas (NY Times) about gun laws and the upcoming mid-term elections.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A LINE IN THE SAND goes home to San Diego

On March 14, I had the pleasure of going to San Diego to speak at Career Day at my old high school, La Jolla Country Day. I spoke to 500 Upper School students from the same stage in the amphitheater, where I received my diploma many years ago. I told them that even as early as 9th grade, I knew that I wanted to be an actor and to do theater, and I recommended they follow their passions. Then, I spoke to several small groups of seniors about "the business" and the particular path I have taken in it. I trust that I gave them some inspiration to carry with them into the future.

On March 17th, bright and early, I gave two back to back performances of A LINE IN THE SAND, for the students and faculty in The Four Flowers Theater, a lovely, state of the art theater, that was once the gym where my classmates played basketball and volleyball, and where my theater friends and I performed our annual musical: GUYS AND DOLLS, WHERE'S CHARLEY?, WEST SIDE STORY, AND FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Great memories.

It was wonderful to come back and perform there for the students, faculty, former classmates and teachers, including Will Erickson, who was my Drama teacher, and Alice Schilling, who was my French teacher. John Tessmer, who was a year ahead of my at La Jolla Country Day and who was in several plays with me, also came to see the show. I had family members and close family friends there too, which added even more warmth to the experience.

After the performances, I sat in on two different freshman English classes taught by Mr. Pritzker. I asked the students if they thought a shooting could happen there. At first they said no, but then they conceded that if someone really wanted to shoot up the school, they would find a way to get on campus. Then, I asked them if there was bullying at the school. They told me that they didn't have much physical bullying, but a few of them told me that they've said things to people that may have unintentionally hurt their feelings. One student said that even if you call each other names in a joking way on a regular basis, there could come a day, when one of you is really struggling on the inside, and it's no longer funny. Just like that it can become hurtful. We talked about how powerful words are.

Then, I was treated to a pizza lunch in the faculty lounge with a group of teachers. One science teacher, asked me why I was performing a play this disturbing, first thing on a Monday morning. He felt it was too upsetting for his senior students, who came to his class immediately following the performance. I told him that they are graduating and becoming adults and citizens of the world. It's important for them to hear the truth about what is happening in America. The Upper School director, Greg Martin, an English teacher, and a History teacher defended the play, reminding the science teacher that theater has the power to reach students in a unique, emotional way, to instruct, and even transform. It was an spirited debate!

After lunch, I taught the Play Production class, which was regularly taught by Scott Feldsher, who coincidentally produced one of my brother's plays in the 1980s with his theater company, Sledgehammer. I did an interview exercise with them. I had the students divide up into pairs and interview each other for 5 minutes. Borrowing from the great, Anna Deveare Smith, I gave each pair one of 3 questions:  What are the circumstances of your birth? Have you ever been accused of something you didn't do? Have you ever come close to death? These kind of questions tend to allow people to tell a good story and talk for a while. The students then got up in front of the class, one at a time, and performed a portion of what their partner had told them during the 5 minute interview, using their words (as much as they could remember) and their physical gestures. They had a lot of fun and learned something new about each other's lives.

It was a great day! A true full circle moment.

(left to right) John Tessmer, Alice Schilling, Adina Taubman, Will Erickson, Greg Martin

Mr. Pritzker's freshman English class

Students interview each other in Scott Feldsher's Play Production class

Griffin performs for his classmates

Adina and the Play Production class

Scott Feldsher and Adina 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Columbine: 14 years later (Part 1) Has anything changed?

Today, marks the 14th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Has anything changed? Are our children safer? There have been over 100 school shootings since Columbine (some involve multiple fatalities, some involve single fatalities or injuries). In the wake of the Aurora and Newtown massacres, Colorado and Connecticut have stepped up and passed new gun control legislation that serves as a model for the federal government, who most cowardly and shamefully, this past Wednesday, failed to pass a bi-partisan bill for expanded background checks. Apparently, there is no death toll, no massacre count, that will ever reach the hearts of these senators. They are only concerned with re-election, and their campaigns are funded by NRA money. 

Gaby Giffords said it best in a great op-ed piece this week: "If we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way."

This seems like our best and only option to pass sensible gun laws.

Here is another excellent article by Joe Nocera in the NY Times today. It's about Katie Lyles, a student at Columbine on the day of the massacre, who ran to safety to a nearby house in the neighborhood. Today, she is an art teacher at an elementary in Littleton, Colorado, not far from Columbine. This past Wednesday, she was in Washington, D.C. lobbying for the background checks bill with the National Education Association. She is very disappointed, but she says,  "You can't give up just because you lose one battle."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Today, I attended a rally at City Hall organized by One Million Moms for Gun Control. I am the Coalition Coordinator for the Manhattan chapter. 1MM4GC is picking up the baton from Million Moms March that started in 2000. 1MM4GC was founded on Facebook by Shannon Watts, a mother of five from Indiana, the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The goal of the rally was both to celebrate Governor Cuomo's success last week in passing the NY Safe Act, which is the strongest gun control legislation in the nation, and to encourage President Obama to move forward with his gun control plan.

We met at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn Heights this morning. It was great to see so many women that I've come to know through various gun control organizations and events over the past 14 years. Donna Dees Thomases, who founded and organized the Million Moms March in D.C. in 2000 and Edie Smith, Nancy Regalado, and Barbara Holt from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. I met some new moms from the 1MM4GC Manhattan Chapter: Erika, Rochelle, and Zoe. There were some moms from my daughters' school as well. It was wonderful to see so many children holding up signs with messages demanding change to make their lives safer.

Then, we all lined up and headed for the Brooklyn Bridge. I took lots of photos. It was quite a sight to see hundreds of people marching over the bridge. It was my first time walking across. This was the perfect way to do it. The view was incredible. Lady Liberty had her arm raised in solidarity with our chants of "Gun Control Now!" When we got to the Manhattan side of the bridge, people were holding  up their signs, and the cars heading to Brooklyn began to honk in support.

Next, we walked to the south end of City Hall Park for the rally. There were some very powerful speakers including, Shannon Watts, Councilwoman Letitia James, Jackie Rowe-Adams (Harlem Mothers SAVE), and Rabbi Joshua Davidson of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester. Police Commissioner Kelly was there too. For the finale Elizabeth Mitchell, Susan Lori-Parks, and others sang "This  Little Light of Mine."

The overall message was that the epidemic of gun violence in America is our collective responsibility, and that we need to work together to take action NOW to stop it.

It was an inspiring day. I am fired up for the march on Washington, D.C. this Saturday!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Heartbreaking and A Call to Action

On December 14th, America woke up from our sleep.  20 first graders and 6 adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 

On April 20th, 1999, we woke up briefly after Columbine, but then we went back to sleep. I had hoped that Columbine was a line in the sand that would stop us in our tracks, but we kept going. We've had more than 100 shootings since. Note: The statistics vary. For fatal mass school shootings with mulitple fatalities, it's between 60 and 70, since Columbine. For school shootings with either one fatality or just injuries, or suicides--it's over 100. One study said around 300). Either way, it's more than any other country in the world, and it's shameful.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, just 100 miles from where I live in New York City. Right before Christmas. I feel so sad and angry. Will Obama finally do something, now that a more serious national dialogue has begun? We could forget quickly when teenagers were slaughtered, but now there is heartbreak and outrage because these victims were 6 and 7 years old. Babies. Obama waited four years to take any action. Now that he's been re-elected, and he has nothing to lose, he says ready to do something. Maybe.

Yesterday, he went on "Meet The Press" and said that he can't do it alone. The American people must demand stricter gun laws from their members of Congress or nothing will change. Obama makes an important point.

What are we willing to do?

What am I willing to do?

I became involved with gun violence prevention, particularly school massacre prevention, after Columbine. Columbine was my wake up call. It was not the first school shooting in America, but at the time it was the largest death count. So it got a lot of media attention. People stopped for a minute, paused from their daily concerns and challenges, and thought about those 12 students and a teacher who were shot and killed by their classmates, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. President Clinton went to Littleton, Colorado to meet with the victims' families and the survivors. There was talk of stricter gun control laws. Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was murdered at Columbine, took action in Colorado. He worked to close the gun show loophole that allowed the Klebold and Harris to buy their guns without going through a background check. Tom was successful in lobbying to pass Amendment 22 in the Colorado State Legislature in 2000, also known as The Colorado Background Checks at Gun Shows Act. Here are 2 excellent articles about Tom Mauser.

Tom was one of 60 people I interviewed in Littleton, Colorado in the year following the massacre at Columbine. We have stayed in touch since then. He came to see a performance of A LINE IN THE SAND in Boulder, Colorado in 2009. I consider him a friend and an inspiration to everyone who has lost a loved one to gun violence.

I wrote the play as a response to Columbine, which I hoped would help high school students, parents, educators, and anyone else wanting to prevent future massacres to create a dialogue around the many issues raised by Columbine: easy access to guns, bullying, cliques, parenting, violence in the media, etc. 

Performing the play in high schools has been incredibly rewarding for me. I have witnessed thoughtful and provocative discussions from students and educators. The longer I do this work, the more I can sense a greater awareness of these issues in the schools and a greater effort by some school administrators to do something positive for change. That is progress. And progress matters. Prevention would be better, but progress is a start.

Aside from my work in the schools, I have been involved in the New York City gun control activist community since Columbine. I have met so many amazing, profoundly strong people, many of them mothers who lost children to gun violence. They have turned unbearable pain into action. I participated in the Million Mom's March in 2000, organized by the wonderful, Donna Dees Thomases. I have attended rallies, lie-ins, press conferences, fund raisers, etc. I never cease to be inspired by these incredible people to do whatever I can to keep on fighting for change.

The fight must continue. It is more important than ever. I hope, as many people in the media have suggested, that this is a tipping point for America. Can we really stand by and do nothing while children are senselessly slaughtered?

Even if we stopped selling guns tomorrow, Americans would still own more than 300 million of them. The NRA believes having more guns is the solution. At his press conference last week, Wayne La Pierre said the best way to prevent further school massacres is to put armed guards in every school in this country.

This is what we are up against.

I have signed petitions demanding stricter gun laws. I have written to my Congressmen and women. Obama needs our help. If we support him, we can reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban, we can eliminate high capacity ammunition clips, and we can insist on background checks for all gun sales. 

We are better than this.


Charlotte Bacon, 6 
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6 
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6 
Chase Kowalski, 7  
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli , 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6 
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6 
Jessica Rekos, 6 
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6 
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Noah Pozner

Monday, July 30, 2012

The slog / press conference in NYC

Gail Collins recently wrote a wonderful Op-ed piece called "Guns and the Slog" about the slow steady long term work that gun control activists are committed to for change. I attended a press conference at City Hall today. In the wake of the Aurora movie theater massacre, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy(L.I.) are introducing a new bill this week that will attempt to ban online and mail order sales of ammunition by requiring that buyers present photo identification.

The Aurora shooter bought 6,000 bullets on the internet to use in his planned killing spree. The bill would also require ammunition dealers to alert authorities when someone buys more than 1,000 rounds. "It's time to close the loophole that is allowing killers, the deranged, the insane, and even terrorists to buy ammunition online," Lautenberg said. Ms. McCarthy said, "This is just common sense," and that it won't "infringe on anyone's right to the Second Amendment."

Other speakers included Dan Gross, President of The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Jackie Hilly, President of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Carole Stiller, President of Million Mom's March NJ, and Nico Bocour, project director for Ceasefire NJ.

I stood behind the podium with the speakers and a group of members from Million Mom March. I wore a t-shirt from the 2000 march on Washington. Donna Dees Thomases was there too. She organized the march. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces from the New York and New Jersey gun control movement. I met Dan Gross for the first time and his assistant, Heather. These people and their long term commitment to changing this country for the better inspire me! Keep on slogging.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Here We Go Again

Front page of The New York Times today, a photo of a teenage girl embracing her younger brother, after a student opened fire at Chardon High School outside of Cleveland, Ohio. It's been nearly 13 years since Columbine and the senseless violence continues. Our schools continue to be unsafe. T.J. Lane, a sophomore at a nearby alternative high school for "troubled" students has been identified as the shooter. His lawyer said, "By all accounts, T.J. is a fairly quiet and good kid." According, to a student in the cafeteria of Chardon High, where the shootings took place, T. J. was targeting a specific group of students.

Mike Trivisonno, a local radio host, was on the air for seven hours yesterday taking calls from people in the community, discussing what factors might have contributed to the shootings. The usual topics came up: bullying, social media, gun laws, and parenting. Mr. Trivisonno said, " It could happen anywhere and does."

He's right, it's happened over 100 times since Columbine. Discussions like the one Mr. Trivisonno had on the radio are helpful, but until we take some action, and until we are will to change our behavior, mothers will keep losing their children, and the turmoil of adolescence will continue to be resolved with violence.

Please let me know your thoughts.