It was sort of like a game of telephone, as Loretta Weinberg described it, except there was no resemblance whatsoever to a game.
Ms. Weinberg, who lives in Teaneck, is the state Senate majority leader. She retold a story that Governor Phil Murphy told last week, at a press conference at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center. He heard it from Fred Guttenberg, who was by his side onstage, along with Ms. Weinberg.
“Mr. Guttenberg said that every night for 14 years, his older son, who is about 17, and his daughter would argue about who would get the bathroom first,” the story went. “And then three or four nights after this horrific incident, his son came downstairs in tears, because there was no one to argue with about the bathroom.”
This, as Ms. Weinberg said, “is the kind of story that any one of us with a family have witnessed.” Even if your house has more bathrooms than people, your kids are going to argue about who gets it first.
But Fred Guttenberg’s daughter, Jaime, was among the 17 people — 14 of them students, three teachers — slaughtered at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. She was 14; her brother, Jesse, survived the rampage, and their father has been tireless in his fight to stem gun violence. (Stoneman Douglas is an ethnically diverse school; Jaime was among the five Jews killed there that day.)
“This is my third time meeting with the parent of a young person killed by gun violence,” Ms. Weinberg said. “I met a couple of times with Sandy Hook parents when they were in Trenton. It is always an unsettling experience.
“Fred Guttenberg has a strength about him, a resolve, a discipline, that really shines through. He looked at me at one point before the press conference began, and he said, ‘This time, we really are going to make a change.’
“His resolve came through,” she said.
Mr. Guttenberg has been speaking “anyplace he is asked to go,” Ms. Weinberg added, including at a meeting of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Ms. Weinberg “has never had a big sense of optimism when it came to gun safety,” she said. “I have been working on it for a long time, and it is one of the few issues I’ve worked on over the years where I never quite saw the light at the end of the tunnel. But this time, I sense a change, and it’s because of the leadership of the young people.”
She was at Teaneck High School on March 14, exactly a month after the massacre, “and I was able to watch the members of the activism club there organize a walkout,” she said; in California, her granddaughter Shayna Graff, 14, just as Jaime had been, organized a walkout in her own high school.
At the press conference, Mr. Murphy talked about statistics. “We are not talking about taking legal guns away from legal gun owners,” Ms. Weinberg said. “We are talking about where illegal guns come from, and how to stem the flow.”
Most of the guns used to kill people in New Jersey come from elsewhere; many come from next-door Pennsylvania, where the laws are far more lax. Mr. Murphy has signed an executive order that makes the statistics not only public but also easy to find; they’re at the New Jersey State Police’s website, njsp.org. There’s a link to gun statistics at the top of the homepage.
Mr. Murphy also has hired Bill Castner to be his senior adviser on issues relating to gun control. “He has a long history in the anti-gun-violence movement,” Ms. Weinberg said. “They are looking at all sorts of things, beyond the strong legislation that we passed, and hopefully we will continue to pass in New Jersey, whether it is public health issues, or litigation hitting the NRA in their pocketbook, making sure that our public pension system doesn’t invest in NRA-type endeavors.”
So what can people who have been provoked by the shooting deaths of high school students do? “We have so many wonderful groups,” Ms. Weinberg said. “Local chapters of Moms Demand Action, and of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.”
There is much to do, Ms. Weinberg said. And, she repeated, now, for the first time, she feels some hope.