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In early August, I experienced a level of camaraderie and activism that surpassed anything I have ever witnessed. Imagine 1000+ people in one place with one goal, gaining the tools and skills necessary to accomplish that goal. Seldom do that many people agree on such a cause, and do it so willingly and with such passion. So where was I? I went to Gun Sense University (GSU) in Atlanta for training to combat gun violence in this country. GSU is an annual leadership conference for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Moms Demand Action is a part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country. Shannon Watts founded Moms Demand Action 5 years ago after the tragic shooting in Sandy Hook, CT. She could no longer stand by and watch while our loved ones were being killed by people who should not have had guns in the first place.
I had never been to GSU before and had no expectations. After all, I am a relatively new volunteer, I joined Moms Demand Action seven months ago and am still learning the ins and outs of gun safety policies. I first got involved with the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action after the shooting in Las Vegas, which occurred at a music festival which left 58 people dead and 851 others injured. I couldn’t believe those numbers. They horrified me on a personal level; my own young adult children go to concerts and could have been there that night. I was so tired of hearing these stories and crying, but doing nothing about it. The thing is, we don’t have to live like this. At the time, I had no idea where this journey would bring me but I am so glad I found a way to take action through Moms Demand.
This journey for common sense gun laws has led me to Atlanta where we had two intensive days of learning how to organize, how to share the gun sense message and how to work with marginalized communities who are disproportionately affected by gun violence. Moms Demand volunteers from around the country shared ideas and strategies. We shared stories and gave hugs. We texted thousands of voters and asked them to vote for candidates who have received our Gun Sense Distinction. We heard inspiring speeches from Stacey Abrams, the Gun Sense gubernatorial candidate of Georgia, founder and head of the Everytown Creative Council Julianne Moore, congressional Gun Sense candidate Lucy McBath (GA-06), and students leading the Students Demand Action movement.
While the training was amazingly educational, it was meeting other volunteers and hearing survivors’ stories that was the driving force for many of us in the gun violence prevention movement. The survivors I met in Atlanta are some of the bravest people I have ever known. They have chosen to stand up and tell their stories in the hopes of changing minds, and encouraging others to join the fight. I challenge you to read one, just one story of a survivor of gun violence and not be moved to tears. These are the people I admire, who motivate me to continue in this work. In our local Morris County group, we have volunteers who are survivors. We are grateful to them whenever they stand up in our communities and speak for those who cannot. I do not presume to ever understand how they feel but I know that because of them, every day I want to do something to change the epidemic of gun violence in this country.
You see, gun violence is a uniquely American problem and it comes in many forms. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the developed world. In this country, 96 people are killed with guns every day. In this country, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. In this country black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide. But we do not have to live like this. Vote for Gun Sense candidates. If your congressperson will not vote for common sense gun legislation, VOTE THEM OUT. #Enough