On Tuesday, March 12 at 1 pm on the steps of the U.S. Capital, the Connecticut Legislative delegation welcomed common sense gun control advocates, TEAM 26: the 25 cyclists and honorary team member #26 Chris McDonnell, riding in memory for his daughter Grace. Each of the 26 invited cycling enthusiasts has a story with the reason why they ride, each will have completed their 400 miles beginning in Newtown at the Reed Middle School, representing and honoring the 26 victims of the December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. A horrific tragedy of 20 young children and their 6 educators that have left the event indelibly etched in the minds and hearts of the nation. TEAM 26 will be joined for the last leg of the trip on Tuesday by members of the Virginia Tech Cycling Team.
Days earlier, at the launch of the journey, hundreds of supporters from Newtown and Connecticut residents, families of some of the 12/14/12 victims, town leaders and politicians including U.S. CT Senators Christopher Murphy, Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Congressional Representatives Elizabeth Esty (CT5-D) and Jim Himes (CT4-D), faith, community leaders and fellow bicyclists vowed that Newtown has only just begun as they unite to stop gun violence.
Sandy Hook Ride on Washington organizer and Sandy Hook resident & parent Monte Frank spoke of reintroducing America to the Connecticut Effect, "Not only are we not fading away, we are getting stronger." Reminding the crowd that the First Amendment gives us the right to assemble. Monte then referred to young shooting victim Dylan Hockley, who would have turned seven-years-old this past Friday, March 8. "Dylan had a right to turn seven; the Second Amendment doesn't trump these rights." Frank continued that he respects the Second Amendment, however the right to bear arms is not unlimited. After the snow-covered hilly first 25 mile leg, Rider #1, Mr. Frank, relaxing for a moment, reflected that he hasn't smiled this much since 12/14 and he was inspired by the cheering people who lined the roads: "This is no longer a side effect or cause just for the cities, this can happen anywhere."
Since that tragic day, Newtown has become the tipping point, and while an NRA lobbyist can dismiss the rising tide as the "Connecticut Effect" that they just have to wade out. The gun violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School struck a deep cord with parents and families not only in Newtown, and Connecticut but the country and the far reaches of the world. Within days, green ribbons were worn, candlelight vigils and community forums dotted the landscape along with angels and other remembrances. Groups centered around Newtown sprang up, supporting the families including Sandy Hook Promise and Newtown Action Alliance, around the issues of supporting Sandy Hook, Newtown and the need to reduce gun violence: each group with a separate path to the same movement.
After the send-off rally, in a conversation with Congresswoman Esty, I shared with her that I had received many comments on my Facebook page from those who feel that guns are already over regulated. Her response: "We have more federal laws to prohibit drug running, but not straw purchasers of guns. Who buys is loosely regulated states and sell on the streets of cities. There is more of a federal punishment if you taint milk than prohibiting guns to illegal buyers." I didn't want to tell her how many folks I have heard from whom vehemently oppose gun registration in fear, paranoia actually, that the next step would be gun confiscation.
Waiting in Ridgefield, at the end of the first leg, Danbury, CT Mayor Mark Boughton and Debbie Low, Ridgefield's Superintendent of Schools, spoke about how the discussion has changed dramatically in their towns around gun violence and school security since Newtown. They (collectively) have beefed up security, determining structural deficiencies, increased staff training, practicing lock down procedures and looking at policies, protocol and procedures differently. Ms. Low has asked for increased spending on school resources, funding for mental health and using forensic early warning signs of behavior while decreasing bullying.
While the Team 26 cyclists are wending their way down to Washington DC, receiving a warm welcome at Baltimore's City Hall on Monday, the National Rifle Association (NRA) announced to their members that they would be holding in association with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen and the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a Lobby Day in Hartford.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, March 13, the CT Against Gun Violence (CAGV) is holding their own Lobby Day in Hartford. This is a follow-up after the "March for Change" brought more than 5,000 people to the CT Capital asking for common sense gun laws. Many are asking federal and state legislators for support on the same key issues to reduce gun violence: Universal background checks, federal gun trafficking law to eliminate straw purchases, an assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban.
Team 26 is wearing Sandy Hook green jerseys that Rider #26 Chris McDonnell added the words and symbols: Hope, Peace, Love. This is all part of the Newtown Effect, and the message continues to spread.