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In 1999, I was invited to a small informal gathering of moms in Princeton, New Jersey to meet with a fellow NJ mother, Donna Dees-Thomases. A week after a shooting rampage at the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, CA, Donna, a publicist with strong political ties, who dropped her own daughters off at a JCC each morning, was motivated to apply for a permit for a march on Washington to protest for sensible and meaningful gun legislation. She was calling it, the Million Mom March. The California shooter was a white supremacist who walked into the lobby of the JCC and opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, firing 70 shots into the complex. The gunfire wounded five people: three young children, a teenager, and an office worker. Shortly after, he murdered another adult. This shooting occurred four months after the massacre at Columbine High School, which left 12 students, one teacher, and the two murderers dead; plus 21 injured.
Following that initial Million Mom March meeting, I was so appalled by the statistics on gun violence and so frustrated by our government’s inability to enforce commonsense gun safety laws, that I became a local coordinator for the movement. Being immersed in the cause, I became very conscious of how guns had not only permeated our physical culture, but the English language as well. With an interest in linguistics (it had been one of my college majors along the way), I became keenly aware of what I’m calling for lack of a better word gunspeak. Many times I’ve had to stop myself in mid-sentence trying to avoid using these words or idioms, but it’s so natural, it’s nearly unavoidable. Maybe this list will trigger some phrases for you as well: armed with the facts, loose cannon, jump the gun, going great guns, go offhalf-cocked, be on target, getting loaded, shotgun wedding, shoot your wad, fire with both cylinders, straight shooter, staring down the barrel of a gun, fire back, riding shotgun, gun shy, under the gun, shooting from the hip and the smoking gun.
The Million Mom March was a true grassroots movement, organized through word of mouth. After a nine-month gestation period, on Mother’s Day 2000, approximately three quarters of a million people showed up on Washington’s National Mall to advocate for stricter gun control (150,000 to 200,000 people across the country held sympathy marches). One of the founding beliefs of the Million Mom March was that, “Gun violence is a public health crisis that harms not only the physical, but also the spiritual, social, and economic health of our families and communities.” Displayed on the mall that day was a “wall of death,” which included more than 4,001 names — all people who’d been victims of gun violence. Today, approximately 30,000 people die from gun violence a year in America (it breaks down to someone every 17 minutes).
In 2000, the stats were that every day 12 children are killed by gunfire in the U.S.; one out of every 17 high school students has carried a gun in the past month; a gun kept in the home is four times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. Twelve years later, the stats report that every day eight children die from gun violence. These days it’s more difficult for students to bring guns to school, but when it comes to having a gun in the home, well, the numbers I’ve heard about the likelihood of those guns harming innocent people, are off the charts. And while some background checks have been instituted in the intervening years, as we have learned, they aren’t bulletproof.
Through the Million Mom March, the power “of a few good moms” propelled the subject of gun safety into the spotlight and literally onto a national stage. This garnered the coordinators (along with our families) an invite to the White House to meet with the President and Hillary Clinton prior to the march. That was great, except that in all these years since Bill has been out of office, nothing significant has been done regarding this issue.
It is essential that we improve access to mental health services in this country, but along with that, I am blown away and feeling up in arms at how our legislators have been complacent when it comes to every day people walking around with semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We need to keep shooting off our mouths and stick to our guns, so they’ll give it their best shot and make legislative decisions to enforce sensible gun laws that represent the will of the majority of law-abiding citizens.
Let’s bite the bullet and get it done!