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I served in the Navy for over 20 years. Originally I was a P3 pilot, and then I transitioned into International Engagement Work. My last couple years of work were engaged in partnerships in Africa, and working on security cooperation and development. My final tour was working as a foreign policy advisor to the chief of the Navy. And then I retired from the Navy mainly because we knew we wanted to have a child. I had a son and while I was waiting for him to be born, the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina happened.
Yes, the Emanuel AME shooting was really my segue into getting into gun violence prevention. I was horrified at the idea that a young white man could go into a church and kill nine Black parishioners because they were Black, because he was racist, but then also because of the way the law was written. Thankfully there has been action on it since, but if the Charleston Loophole hadn’t existed at the time, he may have been prevented from buying a gun.
I wanted to do everything I could to prevent this kind of society from existing, especially while my son was living in it. So I found Everytown for Gun Safety and I got involved right away with the D.C. chapter of its grassroots arm, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Within a few weeks, I was asked to be the chapter leader, because there hadn’t been a chapter leader for about a year. It was crazy at the time but I did it, and I’m so glad I did.
Initially, there was a lot of energy just spent organizing, which is the unsexy part of grassroots organizing, the day-to-day work: calling people, sending texts, writing catchy emails, posting on Facebook. Eventually, we had the bandwidth to focus on gun violence prevention efforts locally. We have some of the most stringent gun laws in the country, but we’re the only metropolitan area in the country that has had an increase in gun deaths in the last two years. We’ve been really heavily involved with working with local partners who are directly impacted by gun violence and it’s been a three year endeavor of working on positive solutions. A lot of that revolves around violence interrupters and CURE Violence programs which have seen a great deal of success in the communities where they’ve been implemented.
Just last month, we had an extremely successful advocacy day — the first ever for D.C. More than 150 Moms Demand Action volunteers went to city hall and talked to every single council member about plans for how we could make the city safer.
I’ve been involved with the Veterans Advisory Council since its inception. My role is about finding ways to help Moms Demand Action volunteers who are veterans use their voices and engage with the Moms Demand Action volunteer network, and also to help Moms Demand Action chapters bring more veterans into the movement. There is such a high number of suicides among the veteran community, which is a major concern for most Moms Demand Action volunteers I speak with. The next step for the Veterans Council is helping chapters figure out how to engage around the issue of suicide and how to do outreach to veterans. We’re engaging with chapters across the country about how they can address veteran suicide and how they can bring more veterans into the movement.
I’ve always felt welcomed by Everytown, by fellow Moms Demand Action leaders and volunteers, and also by policymakers. I didn’t have a feeling of hesitation when I joined Moms Demand Action, but I know that it exists for some veterans. I think it just means we have to do more and more outreach to veterans so we can break down barriers. People shouldn’t be surprised that veterans want to get involved in the gun violence prevention movement.
Veterans bring the gravitas of someone who has handled firearms. Whether they have been to war or not, almost every military service member has received firearms training. They understand the implications and the gravity of a gun and what being responsible for a gun really means. Many veterans practice secure gun storage: they lock up their guns, they make sure the firearm and ammunition are separately stored, and they never point their firearm at someone. Through our training, gun safety is just ingrained in us — it is always first. Veterans understand that you’re not enshrined with the trust to handle a gun until you’ve shown you have the capability to be responsible with that gun. When some veterans find out the real nature of gun laws in our country, like about loopholes in our background check system, they’re shocked. They say, “I didn’t realize that someone could just go to a gun show and buy a gun or buy 100 guns without any kind of background check. How is that possible? I had to get a background check to join the military.” Veterans bring grounding to the gun safety debate. They bring a sensible perspective that people trust and respect.
Because Moms Demand Action needs to speak to everyone — we’re the largest grassroots gun violence prevention organization out there and we need to appeal to as many people as we can. We know that veterans have such a strong appeal, whether it’s to policymakers or our fellow community members, so having that trust and respect on your leadership team or in your chapter will expand your reach.
I personally wanted to have a voice in this conversation, but I didn’t have time to create a webpage for veterans or build a membership list. I’m so grateful for the platform that Moms Demand Action has given me so I can use my voice to promote gun safety and gun violence prevention policies and legislation.
The reason why veterans should want to be a part of Moms Demand Action is for that precise reason — Moms Demand Action has the infrastructure and systems built but we need veterans’ voices, because we play a vital part of this conversation.
I really think we have hit the tipping point in terms of federal legislation. I think we’re going to see background checks on all gun sales and a strong red flag law passed in the foreseeable future.
I am so inspired by Moms Demand Action volunteers, leaders and gun violence survivors across this country who do this work every single day, despite how hard this work can be. Last night, a 7-year-old was shot in Chicago, and that’s an example of the time when people wonder: how we get up every day and work on such a heartbreaking issue? But, that’s the exact reason why. We’re so intimately involved with so many victims and survivors of gun violence here in Washington D.C. — and it becomes overwhelming — but so many of my fellow volunteers keep doing this work every day. That’s my inspiration.
I feel so grateful to be on the Veterans Advisory Council with other veterans who feel so strongly about this issue that they’re going to take time out of their busy lives to make sure the world is a safer place. I want them to know that their voices are making a difference.
If you’re a veteran or a concerned American who wants to get involved in the movement to end gun violence, text READY to 644–33 to find a local Moms Demand Action chapter.
Did you know?
The US gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than that of other high-income countries.
Grinshteyn, E. and Hemenway, D. “Violent Death Rates in the US Compared to Those of the Other High-income Countries, 2015.” Preventive Medicine. (2019). https://bit.ly/3kyfsSs
Last updated: 1.7.2021