Calling himself a “bike messenger,” Monte Frank said he wants to tell Congress that gun violence doesn’t discriminate between urban areas and the “one-traffic-light” town he’s from.
A resident of Newtown, Mr. Frank lived down the street from the former site of Sandy Hook Elementary School. His daughters went to school there, and on Dec. 14, 2012, their third grade teacher was among those killed, along with neighbors of his, in the mass shooting. Saying Congress has done nothing since then, Mr. Frank noted there had been 44 shootings in schools as well as in public places, leading to 30,000 American deaths from guns since Newtown. He said by bringing a message of peace, hope and love, it was time for Congress “to put politics aside and get it done.”
“Each gun death is a person and their shattered dreams,” Mr. Frank said. “We can no longer sit idly by and watch this unnecessary destruction of lives and dreams and potential future leaders. Their dreams are our dreams. We are senselessly losing brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, future artists and dancers, police officers and firefighters and teachers and doctors.”
Mr. Frank said this before a crowd of close to 200 outside Town Hall on Saturday as the town turned out to cheer him and the other members of Team 26. They were traveling the 400 miles from Newtown to Washington, D.C., by bicycle to raise awareness for the issue. The rally was put together by the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence as a way to show its support for gun law reform on a federal level, including universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and eliminating the expanded magazine ammunition clips that have been used in mass shootings across the country.
Speakers told of the gun law reforms passed in Connecticut on a bipartisan basis in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. The laws, which have stood up so far to court challenges, are regarded as the second toughest in the nation behind New York state’s, and the fact that those reforms could happen here led many to wonder why they weren’t happening on a national basis.
“The reason we’re here today is to tell Congress to do its job,” said council member Jonathan Perloe, who led the rally’s organization. “The other day my 16-year-old daughter told me that she was finally feeling better about going to the movies because she wasn’t quite as scared that someone with an assault rifle was going to let loose and kill people like the young man in Aurora. Last spring she told me how frightened she was when Greenwich High School went into lockdown due to a gun threat. She huddled under a desk for an hour worried about what might happen. This is not the way I want my girls to grow up, and there’s no reason for it to be this way. But it is due to the lack of courage of some members of Congress, mostly Republicans but some Democrats, who are standing in the way of common-sense measures.”
Last year the U.S. Senate did advance increased gun control but it could not overcome a Republican-led filibuster which necessitated a 60-vote approval for it. There has also been no indication the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will even let a similar bill get to the floor for a vote either. However, Connecticut’s laws had strong Republican support, including unanimously from Greenwich’s delegation to Hartford, and Republican First Selectman Peter Tesei signed Greenwich on to the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns effort last year.
Mr. Perloe called for an end to the “stranglehold” he said the National Rifle Association has on Congress. That can only happen, he claimed, when communities like Greenwich “stand up and make their voices heard.”
Mr. Frank and the other members of Team 26 arrived in Washington on Tuesday morning as part of their effort to raise awareness about reforming federal gun laws and put some pressure on Congress at the same time. Team 26 did not just have people connected with Newtown. It also had members touched by the massacre in 2007 at Virginia Tech University, where 32 people were killed and 17 more wounded, and the Greenwich rally had speakers from You Are Not Alone, a group of women who have lost loved ones to gun violence.
A bipartisan group of speakers showed support for Team 26, too, as part of the coalition’s rally. Town residents U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), who rode along with Team 26 from Newtown to Greenwich, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), as well as Mr. Tesei and Selectmen David Theis and Drew Marzullo, all appeared at the event, as did Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, a town native and graduate of Greenwich High School.
“We are extremely grateful for the participation of our elected officials representing Greenwich at the local, state and federal levels and for the support and guidance of Connecticut Against Gun Violence,” Mr. Perloe said. “We are honored to host this rally for Team 26, a group that has undertaken this heroic 400-mile ride to call attention to the inaction in Congress.”
Both Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Himes were leading advocates of the gun law reform advanced in Congress last year. They admitted it will be difficult to move it forward again but pledged to keep fighting.
“This is going to be a protracted battle,” Mr. Himes told the crowd. “You’re probably going to have to make your voices heard for years to come if we are to sway the country and the Congress. … Nothing is as hard as getting that horrendous phone call which so many people in Newtown got and the women from You Are Not Alone have all gotten. Newtown, as appalling as it was, was not a unique event. In all of our communities, guns are ravaging our people and our sense of ourselves.”
Mr. Blumenthal recalled being in Newtown the day of the massacre and said he would never forget the sights and sounds of the parents who had lost their children.
“That moment haunts me and it will forever,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “It haunts this team. It should haunt all Americans. Newtown might not have changed America overnight, but it was a defining moment in our history. We won’t change America overnight, but we’re not going away. We’re not giving up. We’re not taking no for an answer.”
Mr. Himes highlighted the work of You Are Not Alone (YANA), saying the group resisted the temptation to withdraw and be angry or hate after suffering the tragedy of gun violence and instead turned it into something positive.
“They said, ‘What I have suffered will not be the norm two, three or four years from now,’” Mr. Himes said. “We need to thank them for that. We’re all terribly disappointed that even though a clear majority of Americans support universal background checks it couldn’t get through the Senate, but nothing we have ever achieved as a country has come quickly or easily, whether it’s civil rights or any of the other things we are profoundly proud of. It happens because of you and me and Team 26 and YANA and the attorney general and Sen. Blumenthal saying over a period of time that this will not stand.”
Urging the fight for reform to continue also fell to the Rev. Maxwell Grant, the senior minister at Second Congregational Church. He said the role of a house of worship was to call the broader community to be true to its deepest values and highest aspirations as well as to heal what’s broken.
“We are all one human family, and that’s why we must stand with those who are working to reduce gun violence in this community and in every community around the country,” Mr. Grant said. “It says in the good book, ‘Choose on this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.’ That is where we find ourselves today. As a nation we must choose who we will serve. Will we serve the merchants of death who make profit in destruction? Will we serve those who say 30-round clips and assault weapons are vital to hunting? Will we serve those who argue that it’s fair and right that driving a car or getting on a plane or registering a dog should be harder than purchasing a handgun?”
Mr. Tesei wished Godspeed to the cyclists on their journey to Washington. He was accompanied at the event by his young son James, who passed up going to a friend’s birthday party to come, leading Mr. Tesei to remark, “Isn’t this who we’re doing this for?
“Irrespective of one’s views on this particular topic, which I know is deeply personal and emotional for some people, I think it’s important for everyone to show their respect to all of you for the efforts you are making and the passion and sacrifice you’re providing to carry forth something you hold dear,” Mr. Tesei said.