I never in my life pictured myself as an activist for anything except earlier bed times for my children. Unfortunately, that all changed one Sunday evening at the end of March, 2015.
I remember the tragic event like it happened yesterday, because in my mind I still relive it like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful spring day in my neighborhood. My children were playing outside, my parents were visiting, and I was bragging about my recent couponing trip.
Life was great, until my son came busting in the house shaking from head to toe saying that his friend – who live next door – had shot their playmate with a gun. My son and three other friends were playing “cops and robbers” when our next door neighbor’s son, an 8-year-old boy, acquired a loaded and unsecured rifle and shot their 11-year-old friend in the face.
My husband was in the garage at the time and, as he heard the gunshot and a child’s scream, his heart sank. As a parent, the thought of your child being injured or dying as a result of a completely preventable gun shot is unconscionable. Incredibly, the victim survived, but the scars of that experience will be on my son’s psyche forever.
My husband and I had some qualms about our next door neighbors being irresponsible, especially with regards to what they allowed their child to play with, but we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. We could never imagine that a parent would be so careless as to leave a loaded and unsecured firearm out where a child could find it.
While the boy’s actions may have been unintentional, it was no accident. A negligent adult gun owner had left the firearm unsecured.
I was born in West Virginia to a family that hunted and used guns, and I support the Second Amendment. But it enraged me that, in North Carolina, the punishment for a gun owner who leaves an unsecured gun accessible to children is just a misdemeanor. A mere slap on the wrist. And the gun will likely be returned to them. That just didn’t make any sense to me.
After the incident, I immediately started researching how I could help make kids safer around guns, and found an organization dedicated to protecting children from senseless gun violence: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
I joined the North Carolina chapter of “Moms” the first week of April and attended a rally in Nashville two weeks later. I had no idea what to expect, but the rally blew me away. I have never, in my eight years of being a parent, met a more wonderful, caring, and involved group of women and men! Over those two days, I heard completely heartbreaking stories of how unintentional child shootings and senseless acts of gun violence had left some of these women and men childless. They made my story look like a fairy tale.
When I got home from Nashville, I was a full-fledged gun violence prevention activist and I was extremely proud to be an active member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America . My husband certainly didn’t see that coming!
When I joined, “Moms” was about to launch a campaign called Be SMART , which is dedicated to educating adults on how to prevent unintentional children shootings across the US. An analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety found that nearly seven children ages 19 and under are killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day, and many of these tragedies could have been avoided if gun owners stored their guns locked and unloaded, away from curious children. According to the #NotAnAccident index, there have been at least 260 unintentional child shootings so far this year.
Be SMART is geared toward creating a more responsible gun culture and preventing these tragedies. Moms Dem and Action encourages parents and caretakers, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, to “Be SMART” by taking simple steps to help prevent shootings by children. Steps like, securing all guns in your home and vehicles and asking about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes.
I am now the volunteer Survivor Engagement Lead for Moms Demand Action for the state of North Carolina. I have a connection with these gun violence survivors that I never thought I would have. But together we empower one another to keep going. We and together united and committed to ending gun violence in America. Gun violence takes 93 Americans every day and injures hundreds more. Gun violence is not just a domestic violence, women, or racial issue, it’s an American issue. This issue has turned into an epidemic, an epidemic that I am fully dedicated to changing.