In what is becoming a chilly rite of spring, cyclists from Newtown, CT, stopped in Morristown on Sunday en route to the nation’s capital, where for the third straight year they will implore Congress to pass gun safety laws to prevent a repeat of the 2012 Sandy Hook School massacre.
“All lives matter. And the Second Amendment does not trump the right to live. Enough is enough,” Monte Frank said on the steps of Morristown town hall.
Frank leads Team 26, cyclists representing each of the first-graders and educators shot dead by a deranged 20-year-old gunman on Dec. 14, 2012.
Two riders have children who attended Sandy Hook; two more lost loved ones in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. The group left Newtown on Saturday, and is scheduled to complete its 400-mile journey on Tuesday.
“We ride to make sure the shootings of 12/14 at the Sandy Hook School don’t fade into the national memory,” Frank told a sparse crowd, on a blustery Palm Sunday with biting winds that wrought havoc with printed speeches.
The rally was sponsored by Moms Demand Action, the New Jersey chapter of the Million Moms March, Blue Wave NJ, and the town of Morristown. The organizations are urging citizens to prod legislators to enact several measures:
S2785 – Requires criminal history record background check for rifle and shotgun purchases. Introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on March 9, 2015. No action has been taken by that Committee.
A4218/ S2786 — Revises certain laws concerning domestic violence and firearms. These bills were introduced on Feb. 23, 2015, (Assembly) and March 9, 2015, (Senate) and referred to their respective Law and Public Safety committees. This bill is in its early stages. Rally organizers say New Jersey has good laws regarding domestic violence and guns; this bill would close some loopholes.
H.R. 1217 — On March 3, 2015, Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) re-introduced this bill to expand background checks to all online and gun show sales. The bill was introduced with four Republican and four Democratic co-sponsors. The chief sponsors intend to add co-sponsors on a one- Republican-for-one-Democrat basis for now. Rally organizers are asking citizens to encourage their congressional representatives to co-sponsor the measure.
Rally organizers also are promoting a petition called FINISH THE JOB, to urge Congress to require background checks for all gun sales.
Every three hours, someone dies from gun violence in America, said Mayor Tim Dougherty, who received an autographed Team 26 jersey from Frank as thanks for his support.
“We hope that one day, our elected officials from all across this country will wake up, and understand that they represent something that should never have happened in these United States,” the Mayor told listeners.
Maura Sherlach Schwartz, a New Jersey resident who lost her mother, Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Scherlach, thanked the cyclists and public for helping her heal from the tragedy. She also has established Mary’s Fund in her mother’s honor, to aid children with mental and physical disabilities.
Without such efforts, Schwartz said, there would be despair.
“It is so easy to get angry, and frustrated in both the events of that day, and what has happened since,” she said.
“We have seen so much happen in our country, and yet still, no national laws for gun safety. It is so easy to get discouraged, to wallow in that disappointments, to give up hope that our country will ever enact proper legislation to protect its innocent citizens.”
But change takes time, and the cyclists epitomize perseverance, Schwartz said. “There is no quitting, there is no abandoning their teammates. There is only the goal of seeing this journey through to its completion.”
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Ninety-one percent of Americans, including families that own guns, want a background check conducted for every gun sale, according to Frank.
“And yet, Congress has failed to act. We ride to press Congress to put politics aside, and finish the job started by James Brady, a Republican, and White House press secretary under Ronald Reagan,” he said, urging passage of the bi-partisan Thompson-King bill introduced this month.
Gun trafficking should be a federal crime, he added, and high-capacity magazines should be banned.
Team 26 also wants New Jersey and Connecticut to pass pending bills to restrict firearms when temporary restraining orders are issued in domestic violence cases. The presence of firearms in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent for women, while only 7 percent have successfully used a gun for self-defense, Frank said.
None of these changes, he said, would affect hunters or sportsmen.
“Let’s be silent no more. Let’s tell Washington that 30,000 gun deaths a year is unacceptable. That every life matters, and every single gun death is one too many,” Frank said.
“Let’s make sure that Congress understands that if we really care about our children, that over 100 school shootings since Sandy Hook is unacceptable. Enough is enough. Let’s all ride together for a safer America.”
Praising the cyclists as “noble patriots, standing up to the gun violence in America,” Morristown Council President Rebecca Feldman quoted Thomas Paine, whose statue stands in Morristown: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Frank chose an icon of more recent vintage.
“Nelson Mandela said it always seems impossible, until it’s done,” he said. “And if we keep persevering, keep pedaling, and keep working together, it will get done.”