On Saturday they arrived in Morristown for their fifth annual stopover. The only difference this time: The Team 26 cyclists came from D.C., instead of pedaling to the capital.
“We’re turning our backs on Washington and Congress, due to their inaction,” said team member Tommy Fadoul, after 115 soggy miles in the saddle.
Around 8:30 am on Sunday, May 7, 2017, the cyclists will roll from Morristown town hall and head for home.
That’s Newtown, CT, where 20 children and six staff members were gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
Ever since that tragedy, Team 26 has been keeping the heat on elected officials to enact common-sense gun laws, such as universal background checks and bans on assault weapons.
“We regulate cold medicine better than we regulate guns,” the Rev. Cynthia Black, pastor of Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, said at a town hall rally for the riders.
Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove and Kevin Coughlin
Speakers included victims of gun violence from across the country. Fadoul, a 32-year-old designer, lost a cousin at the Virginia Tech massacre a decade ago. Charlene Mokos Hoverter, a retired school principal from Barnegat, lost her sister –a mother of four–to an armed robber in Chicago 31 years ago.
“The pain someone feels when you lose someone to gun violence never goes away,” said Hoverter.
“I’m outraged at the lack of outrage. People should be shocked at every senseless killing with a gun, instead of, ‘oh, here’s another one,'” she said.
Carolyn Tuft of Utah survived three shotgun blasts during a mass shooting in a mall in February 2007. Her 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten, was executed next to her by a teenager who shot dead four more people before police finally killed him.
She has no patience with the National Rifle Association’s argument that guns don’t kill, people do.
“People with guns kill people, people who shouldn’t have guns kill people. And we could do something about that… If we keep the wrong people from getting guns, it would save a lot of lives.”
“Nobody should go through this,” added Tuft, who underwent seven surgeries and still suffers from lead poisoning caused by buckshot in her body. “People are too complacent about gun violence until it lands in their lap.”
The lack of gun reforms is “almost overwhelming,” said state Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37th Dist.), who has tried to pass legislation reducing the size of ammunition clips from 15 rounds to 10.
She said Gov. Christie has opposed that bill and universal background checks, while “single-handedly” attempting to make it easier for Jerseyans to carry concealed weapons.
Nationally, the National Rifle Association spent $53 million last year to elect Republicans; the sum included $30 million for Donald Trump’s campaign, Weinberg said.
“But that’s okay. Because we’re willing to fight, and to stand up with the leadership of the young people like Team 26,” she said.
Acknowledging the cyclists’ frustrations, Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty pledged the town’s continuing support.
“We will stand with you. We will fight for you,” he said.
“It is not that huge a lift for a country to get behind something as simple as a universal background check,” Dougherty said. “We’re not looking to take people’s guns away…but we have to close the loopholes.”
When the AIDS epidemic struck, the gay community organized and pushed hard for research and treatment. The public must gear up the same way to demand stricter gun laws, even though “it’s scary [and] contentious,” said former Morristown resident Kevin Herzog of Gays Against Guns.
Former council President Rebecca Feldman, a founder of the Morris Area Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, appeared ready to accept that challenge. She got cheers by rapping the gun record of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), who has a favorable rating from the NRA.
“If you have a Congressperson who thinks that people with mental challenges, who can’t even deal with their own finances, should be able to get a gun, you need to get a new Congressperson,” she said.
“If your elected representative in Washington thinks that concealed carry across state lines is a good thing for New Jersey, you need to get a new Congressperson.