COVER PHOTO: By Keprtv.com
On December 14, 2012, I received a phone call from my son who was living in California while I was in New York. He was very upset because he had heard about a school shooting in the community where one of his college friends was living with his family, and he wanted me to help get more information.
The shooting was in Sandy Hook, Connecticut; he hoped my access to information would be better than his because of my work in local school districts in the area.
A hard hit
The impact of the Sandy Hook tragedy hit me hard.
I knew all too well what happens when a crisis occurs in schools. As a former school principal, I had been part of crisis teams developing plans to deal with issues that no one wants to face but almost every school has to deal with at some point. Some of these events leave school personnel totally shaken while at the same time they are expected to support others.
A shock I knew
For my son’s concerns about Sandy Hook, however, I was just a bystander. I was unable to tell him any more than I was getting from news reports.
But, having been an administrator in a school district north of New York City on September 11, 2001, what I knew very quickly was that everyone would be in shock. Parents would be arriving at school terrified; teachers and other staff would be fearful to handle the responses of their students while managing their own reactions; children would need to be comforted, counseled, and ultimately encouraged to return to school, told that they would be safe there despite what had just happened.
Preparing new teachers for a terrible part of the job
The last role I had before retirement was as a college professor, preparing college juniors and seniors to become teachers.
When the Sandy Hook shooting took place, I talked with my students about what they would do if they were a teacher in a school where this happened. They were speechless, stunned at the realization that the job they were envisioning never included a thought of having to be in charge of a class during such an event. They remembered where they were and what had happened years earlier on 9/11, but never considered what was expected of teachers in such a situation.
The need to get involved
A few years later I retired; my husband and I moved to Seattle where my daughter and grandson live. After decades in a demanding career, I thought retirement would be a welcome respite, a chance to travel, read, garden. For a while, that was my life.
Then, I heard a news story while driving in my car that changed my plans.
There had been a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California: 14 people dead, 17 wounded.
Enough, I thought.
There were no excuses at this point that could allow me to be upset about these ongoing tragedies without taking some kind of action. I determined that with time now available, I needed to get involved in the effort to address the issue of gun violence.
Sandy Hook had been followed by other shootings; clearly, the world of gun violence was not going to go away.
Finding the right advocacy group fit
I became active in one of the many groups in the Seattle area that are focused on reducing gun violence. Moms Demand Action, Washington Cease Fire, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, among others, are all working towards the same goals. However, I chose to join Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, a group of people with similar experiences to mine and who now had the time and energy to commit to this work.
Focusing my work on Washington state legislation, I joined the legislative committee. What was quickly apparent was that there was a lot to learn. Never having worked on legislation in any form, I didn’t know the process, the players or how to define the outcomes we wanted. After a few years of lobbying, testifying, and endorsing political candidates, I now know where to direct my efforts.
Following up on 2022 wins in Washington State Legislature
As we head into the 2023 legislative session, we are encouraged by the success of last year.
During that time, there was remarkable movement on the gun violence prevention agenda. A ban on the sale and manufacture of high-capacity magazines, like those that had been used in Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Uvalde and other mass shootings, was passed and signed by the governor.
He also signed a bill limiting possession of weapons at voting sites, school board meetings and other “sensitive” locations. Additionally, a bill to ban “ghost guns,” weapons that could be built at home, became law. We were disappointed that a bill to require school districts to post information about safe storage on their websites and on flyers to go home with students, did not pass. However, we are hopeful that bill will come back this year and make it through this time.
Grandmothers Against Gun Violence set their 2023 agenda
The next legislative session begins on January 9, 2023, and ends on April 24. Here are the items our organization will be advocating be set into law:
- An assault weapon ban has been requested by Bob Ferguson, the Attorney General of Washington state, for the past six years, and has been endorsed by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. While that bill has not moved in the past, there is more optimism that with a solid majority of gun-sense legislators now in office, this may be the year.
- Establishing a permit to purchase a firearm is another issue likely to come up this year. The permit would require training beforehand as well as a background check. It would also establish a waiting period before the gun could be given to the buyer. According to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, “States with permit to purchase laws have lower rates of firearm-related death, lower rates of guns diverted to criminals shortly after retail sale, and lower rates of guns exported to criminals in other states.”
- Grandmothers Against Gun Violence will lobby legislators, testify at hearings and encourage our members to call and email their senators and representatives throughout the process. Because of the potential life-saving impact of this legislation, this will be a high priority for many other groups as well.
- Funding for programs that invest in community-based interventions and education will also be part of this year’s legislative efforts. What is sometimes lost in the conversation, however, is the fact there are some geographic areas that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.
- Other bills are coming, many of which will be described in local news media and on social media.
Opposition is strong to any effort to limit access to firearms and our opponents are well organized. Joining in local efforts is one way anyone can help support the goal of limiting access to a weapon that could change the course of a person’s life in a flash.
As a grandmother, mother, educator, and citizen, I encourage anyone who wants to see change to be part of the efforts to bring about that change. Find a group that works for you or work on your own. As Grandmothers Against Gun Violence we stand up, speak up and show up. You can too.
How to take action
Know your lawmakers. If you don’t know who represents you, go to the state website at leg.wa.gov. Select “Find Your District” from the menu to get information about all your representatives. (This site is being updated to reflect new districts for some areas but should be updated by January 9th. Note also which legislative district you are in.
Email your legislators. Voices of constituents are much more powerful than any other. Tell your elected officials what you want to see happen. They know you can vote for them, so they listen.
Join a group that works toward the issue(s) you are most interested in. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, a website – wherever you can find them. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility is a professional organization that works with volunteers and sends out good information ahead of votes. They will supply bill numbers and topics.
Follow the progress of bills you are interested in; use the leg.wa.gov link to go to “Bill Information.” Enter the 4-digit bill number, click, and all action taken will be shown. When you see a committee hearing is coming up, email or phone your legislators to urge their support.
Testifying on a specific issue is very powerful in terms of getting into the process. The testimony is usually limited to 60 or 90 seconds and you can do it on zoom. Click here to learn how to testify.