Gun violence prevention advocates organize for change
Fairfield — “For some of you, Parkland was your ‘enough’ moment,” Nancy Lefkowtiz, a gun violence prevention activist said to a large crowd gathered at the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church in Fairfield.
Lefkowitz welcomed hundreds of newly-enlivened supporters — standing in the corners and balcony of the church due to overcrowding — to join the fight against gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“My son said he now feels extraordinarily vulnerable in his classroom. He’s not a student. He’s a teacher. And because he would be the only parent in the room if a shooter entered, he would be the one to take the bullet,” said Debra Marrone, one of the many attendees who took to a microphone to share her concerns. The Weston resident vowed to advocate for gun violence prevention at the Feb. 22 event.
Lefkowitz, who founded March for Change after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, organized the community discussion, “Let’s Talk About Guns,” after hearing about the tragic events in Parkland, Fla.
“In the five years since the shooting in Newtown, there have been 1,624 mass shootings. And still, our federal government has failed to act,” Lefkowitz said, adding two-thirds of those deaths were suicide related.
Gun violence, state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, told the crowd, impacts people of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.
“The tragedies aren’t just Parkland and Newtown. They are in Bridgeport, they are in Chicago,” he said.
An eye on legislative change
“All the while you are participating in national marches and student-led walkouts, which is a great thing to do, we need you to activate around the less glamorous, tedious work of grassroots activism,” Lefkowitz, a Fairfield resident, said. “That is supporting municipal ordinances, showing up in Hartford for public hearings, working on local campaigns, and so on.”
Gun violence prevention advocates hope to pass a ban on bump stocks and “ghost guns” — guns that are 80 percent complete and purchasable online — in Hartford’s current legislative session, said Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Jeremy Stein. Both Hwang and state Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-133, said they will vote in favor of the legislation.
Stein also warned about the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act,” which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in December, but has yet to pass the U.S. Senate. If enacted, she said, it “would take the lowest common denominator state and allow people from states that don’t require background checks, permitting, and gun checks to waltz into Connecticut with their out of state gun,” essentially overriding Connecticut gun laws.
“Our adversaries are out there and we all know who they are. They are loud and they are organized, and they are very impassioned about keeping their guns. But we need to be louder. We need to be better organized and more impassioned,” Stein said.
Norwalk resident Kara Baekey, founder of the Connecticut chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, called on the crowd to join her organization, which she described as “the counterweight to the NRA.”
Both Baekey and Lefkowitz agreed students, especially those in Parkland, should lead the movement.
“These teenagers are shifting culture and they might be able to dictate legislative change at the national level,” Lefkowitz said. “Here in Connecticut a youth movement would be a tremendous boon to our efforts.”
In terms of school safety, Fairfield Board of Education Chairman Philip Dwyer said school officials look at school safety from three perspective: infrastructure, training, and assistance for at-risk kids.
“What do we do for that student who needs more assistance than education? Who’s been bullied, who is a loner, who fits the profile of the typical school shooter who gets to the point where they’re anger is so much they do a terrible thing?” Dwyer asked the crowd at Greenfield Hill Congregational Church. “Our staff watch out for that.”
Fairfield Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones emphasized the importance of staffing her district’s effort to prevent gun violence in schools.
“In this budget alone, this year, we are adding more social workers. We are adding a behavioral program at elementary,” she said. “I can’t express how important it is to have psychologists, social workers, counselors. We need people who are connecting with our children.”
Voices of the people, a movement mobilizing
Among those who attended the event, listening to Jones and the various other speakers was Sharon Pistilli, who was elected to the Fairfield Representative Town Meeting in November.
She said gun violence has been on her mind since Newtown and now she’s mobilized for action.
“You have to do what you can to hold people accountable and the only way to hold leaders accountable is to make your voice heard,” Pistilli said. “The only other way to effect change if you’re not happy with the way things are going — because complaining isn’t going to do anything — is you have to run for office, so I did.
Fellow Fairfield RTM member Jill Vergara said she’s ready for gun violence prevention advocates to call the movement what it is: a fight.
“The thing that stuck with me was how everybody kept calling it a fight and I keep thinking, nobody’s explicitly saying it, but this is a fight for our children’s lives,” Vergara said.
Text the word ENOUGH to 203-275-0872 to get involved with Fairfield County organizations fighting to prevent gun violence.