On April 16, 2007, I received the gut-wrenching phone call that my only son, Ross, had been murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre, which took the lives of 32 people and critically injured 17 others.
My heart aches for Ross every day — he was an intelligent, kind, and musically talented young man with a dry wit who loved languages, technology, and building computers. But for the first time in more than a dozen years, today I am filled with hope — because when we cast our ballots in Massachusetts on March 3 we will have an opportunity to vote for a candidate who will actually tackle this issue and get the job done: former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Having been admitted to a hospital with suicidal and homicidal thoughts a year earlier, Ross’s shooter would never have been able to pass the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and purchase a gun. Even though Virginia courts had found him to be mentally challenged, he slipped through the cracks and was never even entered into the system. As a result, he was able to purchase two semiautomatic handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and end dozens of lives inside of nine minutes.
I had to do something to change gun laws. And it was when I got involved with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by Bloomberg and the late Boston mayor Tom Menino (and since merged into Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action) that I felt my voice was being heard.
Bloomberg recognized that nobody truly understands the issue of gun violence unless you’ve lost a loved one. So he took action, organizing nationwide bus tours and flying more than a hundred of us from all around the country to speak with our legislators in Washington, D.C. I and others met with President Obama and Michelle Obama and attended the State of the Union address. He sponsored a PSA directed by Spike Lee featuring NBA players and victims speaking out. Each of these efforts put our families — and our loved ones — front and center in the fight to end gun violence.
Inspired by these experiences, I began to bring attention to the issue in my own way — working with organizations like Lamar Advertising and MassDOT and testifying on Beacon Hill. On National Gun Violence Awareness Day, billboards across the country now display our “Wear Orange” message and our own Zakim bridge here in Boston is lit up orange — and on April 16, maroon and orange, in memory of the Virginia Tech victims.
Massachusetts has since strengthened its gun safety measures — and because of Bloomberg, the tide has begun to turn on this issue in other states as well. In 2018, Everytown helped defeat bills in 17 states that would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. They defeated bills that would allow guns in schools in 18 states and guns on college campuses in 16 states. Twelve states have passed or expanded background checks since 2013, with Bloomberg’s organizations playing a critical role in eight of those victories. And together, we’ve passed 51 domestic violence laws in that time and enacted red flag laws that keep guns out of criminals’ hands in 15 states and Washington, D.C.
With gun safety, Mayor Bloomberg showed that he can take on big interests and win. In 2018 alone, Everytown spent $30 million and won a vast majority of the 110 races it supported, including winning both state houses in Virginia — not only the state where my son was killed but also home to the NRA.
None of us can change the past — but I carry it with me every day. And each April 16, I have a special routine. I eat one of Ross’s favorite foods for breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes, and at night have a hot dog at Sonic Hamburger. I conclude the evening in a nearby park watching the Zakim bridge bathed in maroon and orange, reflecting on what could’ve been.
I’m hoping that this year’s anniversary will conclude with a different reflection — not simply on my precious son and the ongoing impasse in Washington over gun violence in this country, but something else: the very real promise of a president who will end that impasse once and for all.
This primary day, let’s make it happen.
Lynnette Alameddine lives in Saugus.