The wait continues for gun control advocates, survivors
A couple of weeks ago Lynnette Alameddine found herself glued to the TV, staying up late to watch the protest over gun control on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington. She has particular interest in the fight for stricter background checks and other measures to prevent gun violence: Her 20-year-old son, Ross, was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007.
“I was rooting for them, I have to say,” Alameddine said last week at her ranch home in Saugus, where the refrigerator is covered in photos of her son.
For the moment, she was inspired by the organizers of the sit-in, led by Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark and John Lewis, the longtime congressman from Georgia. But she has little optimism that their widely publicized demand for gun-law reform will lead to any significant legislative action.
“It’s not going to happen,” she said quietly. “I’d like it to, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Many gun control advocates sense a “sea change” in public perception of the issue, as Molly Malloy, head of the Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, put it last week. The group is one of several, including Stop Handgun Violence and Operation L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K., both founded in Boston, with strong local leadership.
“For the first time in modern politics, candidates are actually running on gun safety,” said Malloy. “Voters are demanding it. The leadership seen in both chambers of Congress shows that our voices are being heard. For the first time, candidates are wearing it as a badge of honor.”
Yet for those whose lives have been irreparably altered by gun violence, optimism can be elusive.
Alameddine is outraged, for example, that many of the lawmakers who have obstructed gun reform legislation in recent years have accepted contributions from the National Rifle Association. “These people have blood on their hands,” she said.
Any kind of legislation at the national level would be better than none, she said: “If you can save one life, it’s one life.”
State Representative David Linsky of Natick, one of the most vocal proponents of gun control at the State House, sees a number of reasons to be optimistic. He noted that Hawaii just passed a set of new laws, including monitoring gun owners for criminal activity. More mayors around the country are modeling their focus on gun violence around Boston’s efforts to reduce homicides, he said, and more campaigns — including the close race for a New Hampshire senate seat and the expected Clinton vs. Trump presidential battle — could hinge on the issue.
Still, Linsky understands the deep frustration of survivors. Since the Virginia Tech shooting, which led directly to improvements to the national background check system — the only substantial federal gun legislation in two decades — the death toll has risen drastically.
“We had the deaths of 20 beautiful, innocent first-graders at Sandy Hook,” said Linsky. “Everyone thought that would be the tipping point, and it wasn’t. We had Gabby Giffords, Aurora, Charleston, and now Orlando, and countless others.
“One has to wonder, if these events don’t spur Congress to act, nothing ever will.” Like Alameddine, Linsky said he doesn’t have high hopes for major change at the federal level anytime soon.
“One of the most important skills of an elected official is the ability to count,” he said in an interview. “The votes simply aren’t there in the House or the Senate.”
On the steps of the State House last week, Clark, Attorney General Maura Healey, Mayor Marty Walsh, and others addressed a crowd of a few hundred advocates, including Alameddine, on the issue. Representative Joseph Kennedy III spoke emotionally about meeting earlier in the week with victims’ families, one of whom made her despair clear.
“When I lost my son, I lost myself,” Kennedy recalled her saying. “You say the system is failing us. Reality check — there is no system for us.”
At the rally, Clark broke the news that house speaker Paul Ryan has set a vote on a bill that would keep suspected terrorists from buying guns. Its passage would be a small step toward the sweeping reforms advocates want.
In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in late 2012, Malloy heard about the overnight startup Moms Demand Action and quickly signed on to help. A mother of three young children, she’d never before been politically active.
“I realized that I would be tucking my kids into bed and those moms never would again,” she said. “There was no reason why it was them and not me. It made me realize I had to do something.”
She acknowledges that the work can be uncomfortable at times, as her organization of concerned mothers works on behalf of the families who have lost children to gun violence.
“All we can do is show up for the survivors and be as supportive of them as we can,” she said. “Even though I would say the majority of our members are not survivors themselves, we care very much about the lives that are lost.”
Alameddine, a former emergency room nurse, speaks at rallies and participates in gun safety campaigns when she feels up to it. She took part in a recent public service announcement directed by Spike Lee, a collaboration between the NBA and Everytown, the national gun safety coalition for which Moms Demand Action is a grassroots partner. She also made the phone call that got the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to light the Zakim Bridge in orange — for gun safety — on June 2, the second annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The NRA called the national Wear Orange campaign “pointless.”
She is fiercely committed to parents who have also lost a son or daughter to gun violence. She’s become friends with a Washington, D.C., activist who confronts lawmakers with an autopsy photo of her daughter.
In January, she traveled to the White House to hear President Obama speak about the executive actions he’d just issued.
She got her photo taken with the first lady, who told her, “Your president is going to fix this.”
She’s still waiting.