Local women join national effort by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2014
It is personal. Absolutely personal.

Marla Goldberg-Jamete of Amherst was online Dec. 14, 2012, posting a remembrance of her friend and mentor, Nacunan Saez, who was gunned down by a 17-year-old firing an assault rifle at Bard College at Simons Rock in Great Barrington 20 years ago when she saw the news flash. Twenty first-graders and six teachers had been murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, also by a young man wielding an assault rifle.

She was stunned. “The coincidence of this happening on the anniversary was so painful.” That she had two young daughters herself made it worse for the stay-at-home mom. “I was shaken.”

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As was physician Ann Cooper-Ciccarelli, also of Amherst and a mother of two, a son, 4, and a daughter, 7.

“It struck me that this could happen anywhere,” Cooper-Ciccarelli said. “It could have happened to our family. I realized I couldn’t sit back and accept this as the new normal.”

The pair are local members of the national organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They are counting on the conviction of mothers like themselves and the emotion of those who have personal stories to tell to get tighter control on guns in this country.

“We’re going toe-to-toe with the gun lobby although they may have a decades-long head start,” said Cooper-Ciccarelli in an interview in her home. “But we’re going to win because we have the passion of moms like me fighting to protect the best interest of our children.”

Her daughter, she said, was the same age as some of the children who died in Connecticut that awful day and that thought stayed with her.

“Mothers need to know that when they drop their kids off at school they’re learning math and science and not how to duck and cover from gun violence.”

Work to do

In the hours around her job at Baystate Urgent Care in Northampton and her children’s schedules, Cooper-Ciccarelli, 38, is working to promote the Moms Demand agenda. A major goal is to get legislation passed requiring universal background checks for gun ownership, another is to close loopholes that make weapons purchases easy at gun shows and online. A third is imposing strong federal gun-trafficking laws and a fourth is spreading word about safe gun storage.

She is helping to organize house parties where guests are invited to sign pledge cards vowing to vote for candidates in the mid-term elections that support gun control. The objective is to get one million pledges nationwide.

“This is how we are going to get it done,” she said.

Massachusetts, which already has gun laws that are among the toughest in the country, is considering tightening them even more with a wide-ranging bill unveiled Tuesday by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Among its provisions are giving police chiefs the ability to deny rifle or shotgun licenses based on suitability standards and requiring Massachusetts to join a national instant criminal background database that would include mental health information.

While Cooper-Ciccarelli acknowledges that Massachusetts has good gun legislation, she thinks a nationwide approach is key. “If our state next door doesn’t have strong laws, people are bringing guns across the border and our state residents are not safe,” she said.

The latest mass killing May 23, stabbings and a shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, that left seven dead and 13 injured, raises more questions, as the shooter, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, legally owned his three semiautomatic handguns and seemingly would have passed a background check when he bought them.

“There is no silver bullet for ending gun violence,” Cooper-Ciccarelli said. “We have to start thinking about how we can keep guns out of the hands of criminals or mentally disturbed people on broad scale.”

The moms group has launched a national postcard campaign to get U.S. senators to back Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.

In Goldberg-Jamete’s opinion, another control — gun-focused restraining orders — should be added to the array of possible remedies. Families should be able to seek such orders to get guns away from a person acting mentally unstable, as Rodger was, she believes. He also shot and killed himself. And police should be able to revoke the gun permit of such a individual, she said. “I think we need more powerful tools in such a case,” she said.

Personal stories

Recently Cooper-Ciccarelli helped organize the showing of the documentary “Living for 32,” at the Jones Library in Amherst. It is the story of Colin Goddard, a survivor of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Thirty-two people were killed and 32 injured by student Seung-Hui Cho.

At the event, Goldberg-Jamete told her story. Her friend Nacunan Saez was 38, “brilliant” and had just published his first novel when he was shot by Wayne Lo, a student at Simons Rock. Lo, who is serving multiple life sentences, killed two people and wounded four others in his shooting spree. Goldberg-Jamete, 45, had graduated from the school four years earlier and she was in shock. “I really couldn’t process what happened at the time,” she said.

The student body was a tight community. “It seemed like it had been desecrated.”

When the Sandy Hook shootings occurred exactly 20 years later, she wanted to take action.

“I started thinking about what could be done to get guns off the streets,” she said. She began writing letters to area police departments about buying back weapons from gun owners and got involved at such an event in Northampton last October. That day 341 guns were collected and destroyed, she said.

Buybacks, she said, get weapons out of circulation and out of easy reach of someone feeling suicidal, or impulsive. They are aimed at people who have guns they may have inherited and do not really want. While it’s not a panacea, it’s another way to decrease the stock of guns.

She got involved with Cooper-Ciccarelli and the moms group via the Internet. Though her personal agenda includes pushing for a ban on assault weapons, which goes beyond the organization’s goals, she sees the group as another vehicle for progress in the gun-control fight.

One approach she thinks works is individuals publicly relating their own gun-related tragedies.

It’s painful, she knows, but says this: “People need to understand the magnitude of the loss. It’s important that mass shootings are not allowed to fade once everything is cleaned up.”

Future action

Goldberg-Jamete was upset when federal universal background check legislation failed to pass a few months after the Sandy Hook shootings.

“Frustrated in an understatement,” she said. “Horrified is more like it.”

Cooper-Ciccarelli said she and the rest of the Moms Demand Action group were disappointed, too. Still, she is optimistic. The group just merged with Mayors Against Illegal Guns founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to bring its membership to 1.5 million nationally. Add to that work by organizations such as Sandy Hook Promise, the Brady Campaign and numerous other organizations and you have a concerted effort to keep the issues in the spotlight.

“Every day someone is shot accidentally or intentionally,” she said. “If we can tell people, ‘Look this is happening, again and again and again,’ we think we can get somewhere.”

On Tuesday, the group will sponsor an action day at the Statehouse in Boston where members will meet with legislators to continue lobbying efforts. In addition, the organization is hoping to make a showing at community Fourth of July parades across the country.

Those who want to get involved can contact Cooper-Ciccarelli at aciccarelli.ma@gmail.com or go the website for Moms Demand Action — momsdemandaction.org.

“Every day we are gaining new members,” she said, estimating the local membership at around 100. “Reform doesn’t happen overnight. We just have to be patient. We just have to keep getting the word out through social media, events and word of mouth — anyway we can possibly think of.”

Debra Scherban can be reached at DScherban@gazettenet.com.