Grassroots Collaboration Overcomes Gun Violence
Teresa A. Crawford is being honored as a Gun Violence Prevention Champion of Change.
On a chilly desert morning January 19, 2013, about one month after the mass shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I joined a small group of parents, educators, students and community organizers outside a shooting range in Las Vegas that advertises “shotgun weddings.” We gathered, not to protest the range’s unusual take on matrimony, but signal our resolve to the state legislators who drove past us on their way to a closed-door NRA lobbying session at the facility.
Just two weeks before Nevada’s biennial legislative session, time was short to convince lawmakers to pass a strong background checks law to stop private gun sales to dangerous possessors and strengthen mental health reporting. Nevada consistently ranks high on every index of gun violence, especially for women killed by intimate partners, and its gun laws get an F for weakness. Our message: The time to act is now! Most of the lawmakers drove past our signs with eyes front, but two assemblywomen approached to offer a box of doughnuts and chat with us. They turned out to be heroes who championed the background checks bill, SB 221, introduced by a courageous state senator, which passed both legislative chambers.
That day launched dozens of events to educate our community about the toll of gun violence in Nevada and urge state and federal lawmakers to pass new background checks laws. As a retired nurse, I feel that gun violence is a major public health challenge. We rallied at the offices of our senators and governor with handmade signs, held press conferences and vigils and shared personal stories. We phone banked our lists to ask supporters to call their lawmakers—which generated hundreds of contacts—wrote letters to the editor, asked questions at congressional Town Halls and brainstormed at grassroots trainings.
Ultimately, we delivered more than 12,000 signatures to both U.S. Senators and the Governor. We know from public interaction that the five Nevada-specific polls showing strong majority support for a background checks law accurately reflect the people’s will. Even gun owners support expanded background checks. The governor, pressured by the gun lobby, vetoed the bill.
That evening, we held a sunset vigil to thank our hero legislators and remember our losses. Our hearts were broken because the veto came exactly six months after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Because of the veto’s tragic timing, that event got full network coverage.
Three days before our first event, on January 16, 2013, President Obama released the administration’s plan to reduce gun violence in America and initiated 23 executive actions. The president’s leadership inspired us to form a citizen’s movement for the common goal of safer schools and communities. President Obama’s insistence that everyone affected by gun violence deserves a vote echoed long after the 2013 State of the Union speech ended.
Our unofficial coalition includes Organizing for Action, ProgressNow Nevada Action and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, now merged with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, plus our networks of friends and family. Our work continues in 2014 with a press conference, media interviews, a strategy summit and continued Town Hall dialogues with our elected representatives. We are preparing for the next legislative session in 2015. Our resolve is even stronger than it was on that cold morning over a year ago.
Teresa A. Crawford is the Organizing for Action Gun Violence Prevention Lead for Nevada, a board member for ProgressNow Nevada and a retired nurse in Henderson, NV.