What A Trip It Was - JAC Fly-In 2013

Gail Yamner, March 2013
Over the past few months, JAC heard our members and responded. For years we have mentioned gun legislation in passing but this time is different. This time it is more urgent and we are no longer sitting on the sidelines.  On March 19th a group of very concerned women and men gathered in DC to express our support for gun violence protection legislation and demand action.  After Columbine, Virginia Tech, Arizona with Gabby, Aurora, we agonized and sat by. Then Newtown happened and we could no longer ignore the tragic consequences of guns in the wrong hands. We now know that no community is safe under our current set of laws.

When recent polls showed that over 90% of the American public, including gun owners, support background checks and sensible gun safety laws, we thought the legislation to keep our families safe would pass. We were wrong. Strong lobbying and fear have permeated the sensibilities of many Members of Congress. So March 19th marks the first day of JAC’s commitment to be a part of the demand for gun violence prevention.

We began with a panel made of some of the most significant advocacy groups on the issue. They are on the frontlines and need our support.

  • Steve Barton, who was shot in Aurora while on a trip with a buddy, gave up his plans for a Fullbright scholarship teaching English in Russia and now works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Steve spoke about the need for each of us to work to see that events like this never happen to anyone else. He urged us to demand that the legislators pass the three bills before Congress - assault weapons ban, background checks and gun trafficking.
  • Colin Goddard, of the Brady Campaign, was sitting in a classroom at Virginia Tech conjugating verbs when he was shot. He lay there thinking that he would not make it and witnessed many in his classroom not survive. Colin mentioned that he had been in ROTC and knew about guns but could not understand the need for military assault weapons for the general public. He spoke passionately about the struggle ahead and how we must make calls, send emails, write letters and visit our lawmakers. He said that our voices have to be loud, louder than the shrill cry from the otherside.
  • Representative Ron Barber (D-AZ) left the Hill and a vote to speak with us. He poignantly spoke of seeing first Congresswoman Giffords shot, then the Judge next to him, and then realizing he was wounded. He spoke of the mere 19.5 seconds it took to take 6 lives and wound 12 others. Seconds. Without large magazine capacity clips many of the lives that were lost or shattered could not have happened. He spoke about being a gun owner and the need to know the difference between sport and massacre. He also addressed the mental health issues. Rep. Barber sits on the Democratic Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and he discussed some of the 15 solutions/actions that the task force has identified.
  • Cynthia Hogan, Deputy Asst to the President and Vice President, is a legal expert who worked on VAWA in 1994 and currently is involved in the Gun Violence Prevention. She explained the bills that were pending. She explained that in Holder the right to bear arms was established so do not believe the myths that guns will be confiscated. She also said that that ruling did set limits on the types of weapons that can be in the general public.
  • Karen Volker, who was formerly with the State Department, is now the DC executive director Cure Violence. She spoke of violence as an epidemic. Cure goes into places where violence is increasing and trains members of the community in how to help work with those that are troubled. Based on the premise that violence is an epidemic and cannot be treated and monitored much like any other epidemic, it goes to the root of the issue. How do we stop the behavior before there is an eruption.
  • Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) also a member of the Democratic Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, left votes to come speak before us. She was responsible for some of the strict gun safety laws in CA. She spoke of confronting a fellow legislator who asked her if she had ever fired an assault weapon. She paused and said no, but she had been shot 5 times by one in Guyana and still had 2 of the bullets lodged in her body. Needless to say the legislation passed that day and now she is a strong, loud voice for protections on a federal level. We know her as a champion for women and now we see her as a stalwart supporter of establishing federal laws that protect us all.
  • Nancy Robinson, Executive Eirector of Citizens for Safety, gave a visual illustration of the importance of understanding where people get guns. She believes that knowing the source is vital to stop gun trafficking. She said that just penalizing straw buyers is not enough. In fact many straw buyers are women who are coerced into buying and carrying these guns. She thinks we must educate these buyers.  She also spoke about national polls vs state polls and knowing how to use these when we urge our legislators to act.
The panelists spoke about the myths that the gun lobby continue to spin. You hear them speak of a federal gun registry.  In bacground checks there can be no federal registry due to an existing law.The background checks will search a database where criminals and those with documented mental health issues and domestic violence offenses are stored. If someone is in that category, the license will be denied. But if one is not a felon, the license will be issued. They also spoke about the fact that current law exempts private sales from background checks. That means that 40% of those will have no checks. Do you want 40% of people to skip airport security? And they stressed no one is taking away your right to own a gun. Without background checks, guns will continue to fall into the wrong hands.  We submit to background checks for credit cards, mortgages, and jobs.  Why is this so different?

Our members were so involved that some almost agreed to skip dinner for more Q&A.  A question by one member sent chills down the spines of fellow participants.  If so much legislative hesitation is in dear of NRA monetary action against them, how much should they price the life of a child, a parent, a consituent, a US citizen?  $100? $1,000?

We had our usual omelette dinner and mingled with 11 Members who spoke with us in a personal setting. All were passionate on our cause and sid our presence had the power to effect change.

The next day we started early on the Hill. We met with 50 Members or their legislative staff. We urged them to pass the three bills. We asked how we could be partners and how we could reach out to those who were undecided and negative on this issue.

We heard the same message over and over:
Call, email, write letters, visit. WE NEED TO HEAR YOU. We need you to drown out the other voices.
Over the holiday recess, go to Town Hall meetings and speak up. Be part of it. Don’t wait for another tragedy - in your own backyard or that of a fellow American.
It does not matter if you live in a remote area or an urban one, we are in this together. We have to come together and say, “enough”. No more shootings of innocents. No more shatterings of lives. It is up to each of us.

JAC has just started. Join us. Support us. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. When you get an alert, make sure you call in and ask 10 others to do the same. Your voice must be the loudest - make them hear you. Make them vote to save lives and protect us all.