The past three months have been busy ones for North Carolinians concerned about the scope of gun violence in the United States.
In January, for instance, a few Apex and Cary residents gathered to discuss the issues involved and coalesced into the Kitchen Table Group. About 15 members of the group met in mid-February with a representative from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's office to discuss their perspectives and suggestions. Later that afternoon, about a dozen of us traveled to Dunn to meet with representatives from U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers. A month later, the Kitchen Table Group, led by Nancy van Dijk of Cary, has grown to more than 350 members and counting.
Since meeting with representatives from Sen. Burr's and Rep. Ellmers' offices, we have since met with several other state and U.S. legislators from North Carolina. We've also teamed up with other groups tackling gun violence, including Forward Americans, North Carolinians against Gun Violence, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Last week, on March 13, four Triangle members from those groups took part in Moms Take the Hill Day, an event hosted by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. We were among more than 250 women and men from around the United States who gathered in the nation's capital to take on a citizen lobby effort.
We started the day with an hourlong policy briefing at the White House. The briefing was engaging, succinct, and informative. Overviews of current bills making their way through Congress were provided by staff from the White House Community Engagement and Intergovernment Affairs Office, the Economic and Domestic Policy Office, the Office of the Vice President, the White House Council on Women and Girls, Office of Public Engagement, the White House Legislative Affairs Office, and Valerie Jarrett, special advisor to the president.
For the next ten hours, we traveled from one legislative office building to another to speak with the staffs of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Sen. Richard Burr, Rep. George Holdings, Rep. Tim Meadows, and Rep. David Price. We were the subject of a Congressional press conference that featured several women legislators who themselves have experienced gun violence in their lives -- Dianne Feinstein, Carolyn McCarthy, and others. We welcome the Sandy Hook Cyclists, who cycled all the way from Connecticut with messages for Congress.
The takeaway from the day is that our legislators are completely inundated with what Sen. Hagan's staff called "the rhetoric of misinformation and misunderstanding," and what even Republican staffers called "irrational fear" from constituents who seem to truly believe that President Barack Obama is planning a civil war against gun owners.
Also, whereas Rep. David Price has maintained his lead role in addressing gun violence and now serves as vice chair of the V.P. Biden-led Gun Violence Task Force, Sen. Hagan (also a Democrat) is not prepared to sponsor, co-sponsor, or support any efforts to reform the gun culture in the United States. She will need a lot of contact from constituents and a lot of push to take a stand. We're used to this with her, of course. But we pointed out that we're her pool of campaign volunteers for her reelection -- and that since the grisly murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, parents concerned about their children's safety are creating a sea change that will only grow in impact. Hagan has the opportunity to recognize the crest of the change and lead, or ignore it and lose her leadership role in North Carolina and the nation.
We must urge our elected officials to apply qualitative analyses to the comments they receive and not merely keep a tally of how many "for" and how many "against" common-sense gun reform. Some of the rhetoric is extremely hostile and even threatening, and such comments should not be given the same weight as more reasoned suggestions and perspectives.
Since Moms Take the Hill Day, a few of us have gone on to visit with state legislators and other groups addressing gun violence. Today, five of us met with N.C. Sen. Tamara Barringer. Barringer is a new legislator and is just learning the ropes, but she is an ardent supporter of health and human services issues (she was a foster parent for more than 10 years and understands the complexities, lack of funding, and the injustices of the HHS system). Our sense was that she can make the leap from her concerns about public health and safety to the necessity of being on board with firearms reform to protect children.
We'll report more as the events and weeks pass. We're hoping for a new visit with Rep. Ellmers herself in two weeks, when she's back in Dunn during the session break in DC.
Join us! Find Kitchen Table Group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, and Forward Americans on Facebook and become part of our citizen lobby to effect change.