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.