Hours before community residents gathered at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield to hear a panel discussion on common sense gun control, a five-year-old in Kentucky picked up his rifle, which he had received as a gift the year before, and shot and killed his two-year-old sister. This illustration of senseless gun violence was chilling and served as a stark call to action for the hundred or so concerned citizens that had come out to hear community leaders talk about gun control. Politicians at every level of government have been debating gun control and looking for answers. The mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, which took the lives of 26 people, including 20 little children, has raised the issue and demanded that government take action. The Connecticut Legislature and Governor Malloy have acted. The New York Legislature and Governor Cuomo have acted. The New Jersey Legislature and Governor Christie have not acted. Congress has not acted.
Calling themselves “accidental activists,” the leaders of NJ Residents for Action (Against Gun Violence) organized the forum of legislators, law enforcement officials and clergy to discuss the status of gun control efforts. All of the speakers urged the audience members to speak out. To write and call their legislators and the Governor and to have their voices heard. Although recent polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans are in favor of common sense gun control and universal background checks, Assemblyman Joe Cryan reported that his office had received 2000 emails and letters from pro-gun constituents and “zero” from the silent majority. He urged people to take the time to reach out. Assemblyman Cryan was a sponsor of many of the bills included in the gun control package that was passed by the New Jersey Assembly in February. Cryan and Linda Stender, who was also at the event, are advocates for both universal background checks and a reduction on large-capacity magazines.
A bill to reduce large-capacity magazines is now creating a controversy in the State Senate where President Stephen Sweeney is refusing to put this bill up for a vote as part of the Senate’s gun package. Sweeney, a democrat, is putting his own re-election in front of public safety. He should allow this bill to come forward. As Sheriff Ralph Froehlich said at the event, “There is no need for anyone to shoot off 15 rounds. Years ago we limited the number of times hunters can shoot deer to three shots, but someone can shoot 15 rounds into our kids. One of the children at Newtown was shot 11 times. These are weapons of war that are designed to kill people. They are not for recreation. It doesn’t make any sense.”
anwood Mayor Colleen Mahr talked about her involvement with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of 900 mayors across the country and 1.5 million grassroots supporters. These leaders have put partisan politics aside and have come together around three common goals: protecting communities by holding gun offenders accountable; demanding access to crime gun trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat gun trafficking; and working with legislators to fix weaknesses and loopholes in our laws. Mayor Skibitsky of Westfield has refused to join this effort. Mayoral candidate Dave Haas attended the rally and said that he would join the coalition if elected.
On the federal level, last month, more than 40 U.S. Senators voted against a bill that included comprehensive background checks in deference to the very vocal and very rich gun lobby. The last significant federal gun law, the Assault Weapons Ban, was passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. In January of 2013, one month after Newtown, President Obama announced his plans for gun control which included universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and offering more comprehensive insurance coverage for mental health. A call to Congressman Leonard Lance’s office to ask for his position on gun control produced the following answer. “Congressman Lance supports tightening the background-check process on gun sales... Concerning reducing magazine sizes,…the Congressman prefers to focus his energies on proposals that have broad, bipartisan support and believes that issue may be best left up to the states,” wrote his press secretary.
Many other speakers spoke passionately about the issue, including former Governor Jim Florio, Reverend Robert Moore, Executive Director of Coalition for Peace Action, Reverend Dr. Raymond R. Roberts of the Presbyterian Church, Michael Pohle, the father of one of the victims at the Virginia Tech massacre and Rabbi Sagal. If you feel passionate about saving innocent lives, now is the time to let your legislators know. Michael Pohle shared with the audience his day on April 16, 2007 when a gunman shot and killed his son Michael along with 32 other people and wounded 17 in two separate attacks before the gunman killed himself at Virginia Tech. He described going to lunch on an ordinary day that turned into the worst day of his life. Let’s act together so that other fathers, mothers, and children never have to feel the pain he has lived through. Write or call your legislator today.