“Every year, 100 kids–children under the age of 17—die in gun accidents,” says Elizabeth Ulmer, Deputy Communications Director for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Another 400 commit suicide with guns. There are far too many guns in the hands of children.”
Thousands of supporters from Moms Demand Action joined the historic Women’s March on Washington on January 21, linking up with a wide-ranging and sometimes unlikely coalition of LGBTQ advocates, environmentalists, reproductive rights supporters, Obamacare/ACA defenders, Immigrants’ Rights advocates, and citizens of all faiths, deeply concerned about the tone and direction of the new Trump Administration.
An estimated 400,000 marchers flooded the streets of the nation’s capital, with sister marches occurring simultaneously in more than 600 other cities around the world. Organizers estimate the total number of women participating at 4.9 million (WomensMarch.com).
Max Souders, an LGBTQ advocate protesting on the inauguration parade route, said that coalition-building was going to be even more important in the months ahead. “We are an organization of intersectionality. We are anti-racism, and pro-love.” Gun violence, she said, has to be addressed if we are to succeed in building a world safe for people of all races, genders, identities, faiths and orientations.
Lucy McBath, national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action, concurred. “Gun violence is a women’s issue, it’s a children’s issue, it’s a human rights issue.”
Elizabeth Ulmer wants parents to talk frankly to their children and to other parents about gun safety. “The Be Smart for Kids program was created for gun owners and non-gun owners alike to have conversations about securing guns in our homes. The program teaches parents how to talk about gun safety, and how to make sure the places where children play are safe and secure.”
At BeSmartforKids.org, parents can download handouts with tips about how to talk to other parents about gun safety. If your child is spending the night with a friend, for example, do you know whether the other parents own firearms, and if they are securely stored?
Ulmer admits it’s sometimes difficult to have these conversations, but with our children’s very lives at stake, it’s necessary. “Remember, it’s not about the gun. It’s about whether the gun is inaccessible to the kids.”
The site encourages parents to be proactive in talking to other parents, and offers examples to start the conversations. “We have a pool with a locked gate; the children can’t get inside without an adult.” Or “We have two cats, in case your child is allergic. We also have hunting rifles, which are kept locked in a safe, inaccessible to the children.”
Any parent whose child is afraid of dogs or allergic to nuts wouldn’t hesitate to make sure another family’s home is safe for their child. BeSmartforKids.org encourages us to take the same view about guns.
According to Everytown Research, about two-thirds of children’s unintended gun deaths — 65 percent — take place in a home or vehicle that belongs to the victim’s family, most often with guns that are legally owned but not secured. Another 19 percent take place in the home of a relative or friend of the victim. Lives that could have been saved with proper gun storage.
If the statistics about accidental deaths are chilling, the reality of intentional gun violence can be far worse. McBath’s son, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was fatally shot in 2012 at a Jacksonville, Florida gas station by a man who wanted him to turn down his rap music. The shooter used Florida’s Stand Your Ground defense, but was eventually convicted of murder and given a life sentence.
The day Jordan died, McBath says, she became an “accidental” activist, fighting not just to strengthen just gun control laws, but to bring awareness to the damage caused by gun culture. She says it’s all too easy for violence to happen when we are afraid of people who don’t look like us, who don’t sound like us, who worship differently than we do.
She is especially alarmed by the number of states seeking to expand concealed carry on college campuses, and broader use of Stand Your Ground laws. She recently testified before the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee to urge legislators to curb, not expand, Stand Your Ground.
The day before the Women’s March, McBath, Ulmer and other grassroots organizers gathered at the National Press Club for the Huffington Post/Bustle event #WatchUsRun. Speakers from media, the arts and community movements shared advice for getting engaged, and how to plan for the future in the age of Trump. It was a call to action, a call to be resilient, a call for women to walk in solidarity.
McBath told the crowd that “we have to be about the business of preserving our families.” Fellow panelist Winnie Wong, co-founder of People for Bernie and a founding organizer of Occupy Wall Street, said “We have to keep showing up! We have to keep engaging in civic life at every level. That’s how we will create change.”
Referring to insults and threats of violence against women, special guest U.S. Representative Barbara Lee warned that experiencing emotional trauma has biological results. “We empower ourselves when we fight back,” she said.
It was a lesson McBath has learned well in the years since her son’s tragic death. When Jordan’s murderer was sentenced, she told the judge, “For years to come, I will be forced to celebrate his birthday without his presence. As I quietly watch my friends’ boys grow into young men, I will forever be reminded of what might’ve been for my Jordan.”
When she took the stage at the Women’s March, McBath reminded all mothers everywhere of what we have to lose—our children.
“I heard a pastor in Charleston say something that always sticks with me,” she said. “We have been praying for a long time. We’ve been on our knees a long time. It’s time to stand up. It’s time to put your boots on and get about the business of making your community safe.”