This past week, the nation mourned the passing of former White House Press Secretary James "The Bear" Brady, an American hero who stood up to the gun lobby despite being in a wheel chair, put there by a deranged gunman in a 1981 shooting.
Every day scores of Americans experience an "aha!" moment about our country's lack of a sensible gun policy. Perhaps because they're one of the 280 families impacted daily by gun violence, like Jim and Sarah Brady.
Brady's shooting was not my "aha" moment. Nor was it Sarah Brady's, either. While devastated by her husband's injury, it was an incident four years later, involving their 6-year-old son that got her mad. As an outraged mother, Sarah volunteered for a gun violence prevention (GVP) organization working to pass a bill requiring background checks on gun sales by licensed dealers.
Sarah spent the next seven years inspiring mothers and others to pressure their congressmen to vote for the Brady bill. Passed in 1993, the Brady Law was not perfect: its gun show loopholes made it easy for the Columbine killers to acquire firearms in April of 1999 as well as for the shooter at the JCC day camp, a few months later.
That latter shooting 15 years ago this August 10 was my "aha!" moment.
A gunman stormed a California JCC day camp, spraying 70 bullets at campers, injuring five, including a teenage camp counselor trying to protect them. The campers who were shot that day were close in age to my two daughters, then 4 and 5 years old. The image of a daisy chain of young children being led away from the carnage -- hit me hard.
Within three weeks, as a mom on a mission, I recruited 25 others to join me at a Labor Day news conference to announce that we were organizing a Million Mom March on Washington to take place the following Mother's Day. Over the next nine months, hundreds of mothers spanning congressional districts across the country were calling on their elected officials. Many, like me, for the very first time.
Our ultimatum to Congress: act quickly to pass common sense legislation, or we would march en masse. Slowly but surely legions of women I'd never met were putting bus rentals on their personal credit cards. Others negotiated with airlines for steep discounts. One commandeered an entire Amtrak train, packed it with so many moms New York's Penn Station dubbed it "The Million Mom March Express."
On Mother's Day, 2000, we marched on the National Mall and in 77 support protests with nearly a million supporters in tow. And when Congress still failed to act, in November, bands of urban and suburban mothers marched on to the polls, unseating several gun lobby stalwarts in the U.S. Senate. In Oregon and Colorado, mothers joined coalitions that succeeded in passing voter-approved referendums that closed the gun show loopholes in those gun-loving states.
But in one of the worse "group think" decisions ever, leaders of GVP movement deliberately delayed publicly touting our victories until the 2000 presidential race was decided. By the time the U.S. Supreme Court painfully chimed in more than a month later, handing the presidency to George W. Bush, the gun lobby had successfully spun a deceptive media narrative that the gun issue had cost Al Gore the presidency. The GVP movement never fully recovered its 2000 momentum.
Still, despite this huge misstep, we marched on to become a generation of activist mothers, like Sarah Brady, educating communities about gun violence prevention for many more years to come. A thankless job, but we did it for our children. Congress, on the other hand, refused to finish the job it started in 1993 by closing the loopholes in the Brady law.
Congress has its heroes who've tried to do right. But they're repeatedly thwarted by colleagues terrified of a soulless gun lobby, unmoved by staggering statistics such as an estimated 1.5 million Americans have been injured or killed by a firearm in the last 15 years.
How much higher would the annual number of victims be if not for mothers advocating gun safety? I shudder to think. How much lower might it be if Congress had done its job years ago? That angers me to no end.
Twenty more children (and six brave educators) died on December 14th, 2012 at the hands of yet another deranged gunman at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. The 20 slaughtered kids were the same ages as those injured 15 years earlier at the JCC. Again, an eerily similar image of a Daisy chain of terrified kids being led to safety enraged mothers across the country. Except this time, this new generation of moms has a new tool: social media -- a faster, cheaper way to educate an electorate.
Politics can be unpredictable. But this is certain. If Congress continues to ignore mothers, and more children die, the cowards of Capitol Hill will not know what hit them at the polls. For when moms are mad, they vote.