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By Sarah Clements and Kyra Murray
October 16, 2013
Caption : During an interview this week on CNN, Piers Morgan hosted Alan Gottlieb, the head of the Second Amendment Foundation, to ask why he and his organization claimed December 14, the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as Gun Appreciation Day. Gottlieb laughed while Morgan read a quote from a Newtown victim's family member.     

On Monday, Piers Morgan hosted Alan Gottlieb, head of the Second Amendment Foundation, to ask why he and his organization claimed December 14th, the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as Gun Appreciation Day. Morgan also recently came out with a book about gun violence in the U.S. and has continuously shown support for common sense gun safety legislation. He is not alone and is the voice of many. Eddie Vedder recently made a statement about the ridiculousness of the debate as well. If anything else, this display of support from high-profile figures is a symbol for the growing mobilization and progress of the gun violence prevention movement as a whole.

A recent article published on NBC.com declaring that due to a couple setbacks by anti-gun violence groups, the movement was over, and we had no hope. The NBC article asserted that “on the front lines, activists say they are demoralized and adrift, the movement fraying at the roots as its leaders struggle to reignite a fading national moment for change.”

We are not demoralized. We are frustrated and angry, but we are persistent and resilient. The NRA and gun lobby have been implementing themselves into our legislative system and our culture for more than three decades. And although Americans worked on prevention and stricter legislation during those years, the true turning point for this issue was the aftermath of December 14, 2012. A lot of us front-line activists are “accidental,” forced into this issue by tragedy. We are real people who have been fused together by loss, pain, and fear—all working for the safety of this country. We’re new to this. We’re still fresh, and we are absolutely not burning out.

Our opponents jump to Colorado. Sure, Senators Giron and Morse, who were recalled in Colorado, but Morse lost by only two percentage points with a voter turnout of only 21%, while only 36% of Giron’s district participated. The NRA funneled money into that recall, and it was widely known to be a gun lobby-driven event. And we tend to forget that the comprehensive, common sense legislation they helped to pass in Colorado remains, saving lives every day.

Before last December, gun violence was a taboo topic, the third-rail of politics. So it is something in and of itself that we are still talking about the issue as the one-year anniversary of Newtown approaches. New members of Congress such as Robin Kelly (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), and candidates like Cory Booker still focus on gun reform legislation.

Groups such as Moms Demand Action have pushed for further corporate responsibility in American businesses. States such as Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, and California have passed expansive gun legislation. Progress is also being made thanks to young people. The Jr. Newtown Action Alliance is working with groups and youth around the country to make this issue a focus for Millennials. We are pushing for legislative change, but at the same time our student members are focusing on education and cultural change. We are beginning to work with inner-city youth in Connecticut to create and implement an anti-violence after-school program. There has been so much progress on our end, even if the media doesn’t acknowledge all of these successes, which would have been incomprehensible two years ago.

In June, for the six-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting, a delegation of Newtown adults and students met with members of Congress to see how we can continue to support Americans’ Second Amendment rights as well as help make the U.S. a safer place. Each time we go, we hand-deliver a packet to each office that includes a list of all documented gun victims’ names, hometowns, ages, and dates of death in the U.S. since the Newtown shootings. It also includes a letter written by the Newtown Action Alliance addressing the circumstances of our visit, signed by many gun violence prevention organizations and supporters.

At that time, after six months, about 80 organizations signed our letter, representing over 6 million Americans. Last month, we travelled to D.C. again, this time with a letter signed by over 180 organizations representing more than 10 million Americans. Both the list of supporters and the list of Americans lost to guns continue to grow. And although it is heartbreaking and tragic to look through that list (which I urge you to do on Slate.com, as it gives you a newfound perspective on the magnitude of the issue), we see the growing list of those lost because of inaction as a reinforcement of our purpose and motives. We are fighting for a safer America, so that no one else has to go through what we experienced. The realities of gun violence go far beyond the event, the media, and the grief. The unfairness, the senselessness, the “old normal” haunt those affected each day, and although some days are better than others, it never gets easier.

Last month, our Washington, D.C. delegation consisted of more than 90 people including those from Hartford, Newtown, Chicago, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, Baltimore, and more. One of the most profound successes of the trip was simply that we helped to give inner-city gun violence victims and family members a voice. The literal and metaphorical coming-together of Newtown citizens and Chicago and Hartford citizens was unprecedented. It is no secret that mass shootings that occur in wealthier, whiter areas tend to get the most media coverage and garner the most intense reaction from America. The majority of gun violence in the U.S. occurs in inner-city areas, though, and by coming together, we show that our differences do not segregate our hopes and goals for the future. For the first time ever, we have one strong and collective push from Americans of all different backgrounds with all different stories. For those of us directly (or indirectly, for that matter) affected by gun violence, emotion may have brought us to this point, but logic, facts, and common sense keep us here.

The NRA claims they have a growing membership, going from 3 million Americans to closer to 5 or 6 million. As we see every three months that we visit D.C., the silent majority of Americans who support common sense gun reform and a heavier focus on curbing a violent culture is becoming less silent. People often say, “What will it take? Will we let it get to the point when we all know someone?” Every time we are approached with this question, we think back to our lives before 12/14. We remember grieving with our parents over the Aurora shooting, only a few months before December 14. We even remember asking our parents about Columbine as a 9 or 10-year-old, not understanding why.

We still don’t understand why, and we never will. There is no reason behind what happened in our town. That shooting in our town opened our eyes and we often kick ourselves for not seeing the gun violence problems our nation faced before last December and continue to face to this day. While we were in our own bubble, students our age in Newark or New Orleans or the neighboring Danbury struggled every day with unconscionable fear and pushed through with indescribable resilience. While we celebrated our Sweet Sixteens with big parties and gifts, an advocate told me that students she knows in bad neighborhoods in Chicago celebrated their 16th birthdays because they, “had made it this far.”

Although a background check might not have stopped what happened in our town, we know it could stop millions of other incidents around the US, and they already have (In the last 15 years, more than 2 million prohibited persons have been blocked). That is why we will not back down until our nation is safer. A Virginia Tech survivor and activist frequently says, “This is not a sprint; this is a marathon.” It might take many years and many projects and campaigns, and it might even take many elections. However, we will continue to get stronger, until the day we can send our future children to school or to the street corner without thinking twice.

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