By Marion Filler
Ever since 26 children and educators were murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Team 26 has stopped in Morristown.
The weather usually is miserable. And the message never changes. So it was on Friday afternoon, when soggy cyclists from Newtown, CT, rolled up to town hall to cheers from a few dozen well wishers.
“Why do we do this? Because enough is enough! We ride because the political climate has to change. We want to drive the change,” said Monte Frank, the lawyer and bicyclist who has led all seven of these annual bicycle crusades for common-sense gun laws such as banning assault weapons.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on image for caption:
In other years, this ride has continued to the steps of Congress in Washington DC. But on Saturday at 8 am, the cyclists instead will head to Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where 11 people were shot dead in a synagogue last October.
Dubbed the “We Are One Ride,” it is commemorating victims of mass shootings in Charlestown, Christchurch, Sutherland Springs, Oak Creek, Parkland, and other places–too many other places.
Also different this year in Morristown: Congressional representatives showed up for the first time.
Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) and Tom Malinowski (D-7th Dist.) were elected in 2018 “in no small reason because of gun violence,” said former Morristown Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, who invited Team 26 here after the December 2012 tragedy in Newtown.
Sherrill brought her sons, Lincoln and Ike, to lend support on Friday.
The Navy veteran and former federal prosecutor described how she had “kind of given up” after the shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook were not followed by reform. But the House’s recent passage of HR-8 — the first major gun legislation in 20 years, calling for background checks on all gun sales– has changed her outlook.
Video playlist by Kevin Coughlin. Click top left icon to toggle through clips:
“We have reason to be hopeful. It’s a great bill, and something that 97 percent of voters support,” Sherrill said. “I’m never giving up on this again, and we are not going to stop until we get it passed.”
HR-8 faces stiff opposition in the Senate, and President Trump has promised a veto if it ever reaches his desk.
‘CRACKPOT THEORIES’ AND AN ENDLESS VOID
Malinowski described the National Rifle Association as “a radical organization that is promoting crackpot theories and turning Americans against our government.” But he sees glimmers of hope, too, noting that candidates who took money from the N.R.A. last year “didn’t do so well.”
Democrats regained the House, he said, because voters are fed up and want action.
One of the afternoon’s most moving speakers, Howard Fertig of Wayne, recounted the murder of his father 42 years ago during a holdup. His mother was injured severely, and Fertig, then in college, had to tell his sisters the horrible news.
He grew emotional as he related the downward spiral of his life, and the many struggles he has faced since losing his father.
“You can never fill the void,” Fertig said. He urged the audience to support the organizers of Friday’s event, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Do something tangible,” he said.
Video: A survivor’s story.
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and First Lady Mary Dougherty welcomed the cyclists as they pedaled down drizzly South Street. Others in attendance included Assemblyman John McKeon, Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel, and state legislative candidates Lisa Bhimani and Christine Clarke.
Team 26 had covered more than 100 miles. Frank said he was inspired by Nicole Hoyle, the widow of Team 26 member David Hoyle, who died earlier this month.
“Nicole rode the first 20 miles with us and kept me rolling,” Frank said.
Native New Yorker Sidney Nazario, who now lives in Danbury CT with his wife and 15-month- old-daughter, is making his first ride with Team 26.
“We started out OK, but halfway into the ride it started raining hard,” he said. Water got under his goggles, and when they were removed, it filled his eyes. Much of the six-hour trip was on back roads like Route 31.
Difficult, yes. Will he do it again next year?
“Absolutely,” Nazario said. “I am worried about my daughter going to school. Danbury is a beautiful place. But it doesn’t matter anymore where you are.” Gun violence can happen anywhere.
Video: Team 26 rides into Morristown for seventh year: