In 1999, I was invited to a small informal gathering of moms in Princeton, New Jersey to meet with a fellow NJ mother, Donna Dees Thomases. A week after a shooting rampage at the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, CA, Donna, who worked in public relations and whose own young daughters attended her local JCC, was motivated to apply for a permit for a march on Washington for gun violence prevention. She was calling it, the Million Mom March. The California shooter was a white supremacist who walked into the lobby of the JCC and opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, firing 70 shots into the complex. The gunfire wounded five people: three young children, a teenager, and an office worker. Shortly after, he murdered another adult. This shooting occurred four months after the massacre at Columbine High School, which left 12 students, one teacher, and the two murderers dead; plus 21 injured.
I was so inspired by Donna and so appalled by the statistics on gun violence and frustrated by our government’s inability to enforce commonsense gun safety legislation, that I became a local coordinator for the movement. Being immersed in the cause, I became very conscious of how guns not only permeate our physical culture, but the English language as well. With an interest in linguistics, I was keenly aware of what I’m calling for lack of a better word gunspeak. There have been many times when I’ve had to stop myself in mid-sentence trying to avoid using particular arms-related words or idioms, but it’s so natural, it’s nearly unavoidable.
This list will no doubt trigger more thoughts on the subject: jump the gun, loose cannon, armed with the facts, going great guns, go off half-cocked, be on target, getting loaded, shotgun wedding, shoot your wad, fire with both cylinders, straight shooter, staring down the barrel of a gun, fire back, riding shotgun, gun shy, under the gun, shooting from the hip and the smoking gun.
The Million Mom March was a true grassroots movement, organized through word of mouth. After a nine-month gestation period, on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2000, approximately three quarters of a million people showed up on Washington’s National Mall to advocate for stricter gun laws (150,000 to 200,000 people across the country held local marches). One of the founding beliefs of the Million Mom March was that, “Gun violence is a public health crisis that harms not only the physical, but also the spiritual, social, and economic health of our families and communities.” Displayed on the mall that day was a “wall of death,” which included more than 4,001 names — all people who’d been victims of gun violence. Today, approximately 30,000 people die from gun violence a year in America (it breaks down to someone every 17 minutes).
In 2000, the year of the Million Mom March, the stats were that every day 12 children are killed by gunfire in the U.S.; one out of every 17 high school students had carried a gun in the past month; a gun kept in the home was four times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. Fifteen years later, statistics from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, show that every day 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention; seven children and teens die from gun violence a day. Overall, 297 people are shot a day; 89 of them die from gun violence. In a year on average that adds up to 17,000 children and teens and 108,000 Americans in general getting shot. These days it’s more difficult for students to bring guns to school, but when it comes to having a gun in the home, well, the numbers documenting the likelihood of those guns harming innocent people, are off the charts. And while some background checks have been instituted in the intervening years, because they aren’t comprehensive enough, they haven’t been bulletproof.
Through the Million Mom March, the power “of a few good moms” propelled the subject of gun safety into the spotlight and literally onto a national stage. President and Hilary Clinton were very supportive of the march and the mission. When the coordinators and our families met with them at the White House prior to the march, there was a great deal of hope in the air. But in all these years since Bill has been out of office, nothing significant has been done regarding this issue.
I am blown away and feeling up in arms at how our legislators have been complacent about every day people walking around with semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and about instituting background checks, which according to CNN, 93% of the American people support. We need to keep shooting off our mouths and stick to our guns, so they’ll give it their best shot and make legislative decisions to enforce sensible gun laws that represent the will of the majority of law-abiding citizens.
Let’s bite the bullet and get it done!