For three years, I was the local group leader for the Bergen County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Moms Demand Action is a group that works tirelessly on common sense gun legislation in this country. It was formed four years ago, after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 20 6- and 7-year-olds. Today, just four years later, Moms Demand Action has more than three million members, with chapters in every state of our country.
To be honest with you, months ago, when I started thinking how I would honor the anniversary of Sandy Hook, I thought that my words would look different than they do right now. Our movement, along with many progressive movements of this country — for women’s rights, for protecting the environment — appeared to be heading in a direction of real substantive and positive change. But on November 8, we were dealt a surprising and frankly scary blow that threw us off balance.
On the morning of November 9, however, our reality actually remained the same. Every single day, 91 people in America still are going to be killed by guns. 91. That means that Americans still are going to be 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries are. 25 times. We still are up against the same false American mantra that goes “Guns makes us safer.” In actuality, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting or a suicide than to be used effectively in self-defense.
We are still the same Davids, up against the NRA Goliath. Leviticus 19 tells us, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Though the election may have thrown us off balance, we will not let it throw us off course.
Moms Demand Action is continuing to work day in and day out in every state in this country and in Washington D.C. We still demand universal background checks before all gun purchases. There’s another false American mantra that goes, “We just need to enforce the gun laws that already exist.” But unfortunately, many of those “laws” actually don’t exist, and they never did. Now, under federal law, background checks are required only for sales conducted by licensed dealers. That means that convicted criminals and other dangerous, prohibited purchasers, and even kids, are able to buy guns online or at gun shows without a background check, no questions asked. Nearly 40 percent of all gun sales in this country occur without a background check. That means almost half of all gun sales are totally unmonitored.
But even though all of that continues to be our reality, it is critically important to note that the president-elect’s position on guns — which basically is the NRA’s guns everywhere for everyone policy — is not the reason he won. In fact, in states where gun violence prevention was directly on the ballot — California, Maine, Nevada and Washington — it won three out of four races. In Colorado and Oregon, where the legislatures closed the background checks loophole, we protected those victories and stood up for champions of that regulation to win reelection. And we helped pave the way for a gun safety agenda by electing gun sense champions in states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Kansas. In more than 200 state races, we identified gun sense candidates; many won their races and even ousted leaders who have blocked progress on gun safety.
Just look at New Jersey. Look at our very own 5th congressional district. We chose member-elect Josh Gottheimer over entrenched incumbent Scott Garrett. Scott Garrett, who has been a New Jersey representative since 2003, was famous — or infamous — for his consistent A ratings from the NRA, whereas Josh Gottheimer was vocal in his endorsement of common sense gun legislation and for groups like Moms Demand Action. In years past, Gottheimer’s stance on gun violence prevention would have hurt him in the election booth. But not this year. It helped him.
And just within these past few weeks, the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action championed a domestic violence bill and helped it pass a very important milestone. Our state general assembly passed the bill — which will require abusers who are convicted of domestic violence to surrender their firearms and provide a receipt and affidavit to the court demonstrating that they have done so; which will update the restraining order form to allow victims to say whether the alleged abuser owns a firearm; which will empower law enforcement to seize firearms from domestic abusers; and which will enhance penalties for certain very serious crimes of domestic violence — with overwhelming support. It passed on a vote of 60 to 2. This bill is now with Governor Christie awaiting signature.
So although November didn’t go quite as we’d hoped and expected, our movement never was about one election. In fact, the campaign season helped grow our supporter base from the 2014 midterm elections by 824 percent. In November, more than 2,611 new supporters joined Moms on the National Facebook page (which was up 7 percent from October), 770 new supporters joined on Twitter, and more than 100 new supporters joined on Instagram. And overall, we saw 1,105,189 total engagements on Moms’ Facebook page just in November.
That one election did not and will not define our vision for America and what we will do to realize it. And I sincerely encourage you — whether your passion is gun violence prevention or women’s rights or protecting the environment or whatever else it may be — to feel similarly empowered.
As the Talmud asks us, “If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Our country, our families, our children need us now more than ever. As moms, as dads, as grandparents, as Jews, we have both an obligation and a very special opportunity right now to tap into new audiences of concerned citizens and emphasize to them just how critical engagement and working toward change is needed now. It is time, more than ever, to embrace and be proud of our basic Jewish principle of tikkun olam.
More than 92 percent of all Americans are in favor of universal background checks for all gun sales. More than 92 percent. So how do we turn our wish for a better world into reality? Well, if you are one of that 92 percent, take a moment and join our movement. Moms Demand Action is not just for moms. It’s for dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles and teachers and anyone who wants to stand up for our children and say “Enough.”
Simply go to www.momsdemandaction.org and click on “join us” or “take action.” Then pick up your phone. Call your elected U.S. senators and representative and ask them to make gun violence prevention and universal background checks a priority for 2017. Call your state senator and representative and ask them to do the same. Remember, your elected officials are just that, your elected officials. They are regular people like you and me, who need encouragement, reminders, support, and thanks for standing up for our wants and needs.
Then reach out to two friends who have expressed dissatisfaction with the new trajectory of our leadership, and ask them if the gun violence prevention movement is something they support — and if it’s a channel they’d be interested in using to help create the vision they see for our country. Invite them to join our movement. Invite them to make phone calls.
Remember, as Elie Weisel told us, “We must speak. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” Come join us on January 21 as we march as a group for Moms Demand Action in the Women’s March on Washington. This is not the time in our history to look the other way.
We at Moms keep reminding ourselves that the kind of change we’re looking for and working toward is a marathon, not a sprint. To give you a better sense of what I’m talking about, just take a closer look at smoking. A generation ago, smoking was everywhere, right? It was in synagogues, in schools, in movie theaters, in stadiums, in airplanes. There was talk about how unsafe this was for our children and families, but what could we do, right? The tobacco industry was so strong! This was a mainstay of our economy and of our way of life! Well, now you barely see a cigarette anywhere, right? Certainly not around children. Look how far we’ve come in just one generation to protect our loved ones. We will do it again.
The Talmud is very clear with us. “You are not obliged to finish the task, neither are you free to neglect it.” As a member of Moms Demand Action, as a mother of three young children, as a wife, as a daughter, as a citizen of this country, as a Jew, and as a human being, I will not ignore this task. I invite you to join me in this fight.
Sarah Nanus is an active member and past leader of the Bergen County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and a member of Cohort 4 of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program. She lives in Tenafly with her husband, David, and their three children and belongs to Temple Emanu-El of Closter.