Talking to her 13-year-old daughter about school shootings broke Pam Vandersommen’s heart.
“She’s so young, and to teach her how to play dead or escape a situation like that… this is not something we should have to do,” she said.
Now the mother of two Amherst students is teaming up with Oberlin resident Laura Irvin to launch a Lorain County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
It will meet for the first time at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 9 at Peace Community Church, 44 East Lorain St., Oberlin.
“Its not about taking away guns. It’s not about taking away the Second Amendment,” said Irvin, whose children are college-aged. “The resolutions we’re proposing are very common sense and they’re not radical at all.”
Moms Demand Action is about educating the public on basic gun safety, such as locking weapons in safes and storing ammunition in a separate location, she said. Or before sending kids to a sleepover, asking if there are guns at their friends’ home and whether they are properly secured.
It’s about backing legislation requiring criminal background checks for gun sales, said Vandersommen. That’s a step supported by 97 percent of Americans, according to a Quinnicpiac University national poll released in March.
It’s about fighting back against the idea of arming teachers, which both mothers find absurd. As Vandersommen put it, “Teachers should be focused on teaching, not on being body guards.”
And while the deadly February shooting in Parkland, Fla., has brought school safety into the spotlight again, Moms Demand Action is also about preventing suicides, curbing domestic violence, and making sure churches, malls, and movie theaters are worry-free spaces, they said.
The national Moms Demand Action platform outlines a more political stance. “We’ve had enough. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to honor the victims of gun violence,” the nonprofit’s website says, advocating a five-step plan “to kick out lawmakers beholden to the gun lobby.”
It calls for members to pledge to vote in favor of gun safety measures, drop support for candidates who accept NRA contributions, register friends to vote, get political candidates on the record about their gun control stances, and to run for office themselves.
The organization is nonpartisan, said Vandersommen, and it’s not anti-gun. In fact, she’s a gun owner herself.
“This isn’t about what party you belong to. We feel there are moms who are Republican who don’t want to send their children to school and fear for their safety,” she said.
“We’re not against the NRA,” added Irvin. “We’re against extremists in the NRA. We’re just about safety.”
Common sense is key to the movement, they said.
For example, the two local women talked about backing “red flag” laws that would allow family members or law enforcement — with a court order — to temporarily take guns away from people who clearly demonstrate they are a danger to others.
After the Parkland shooting, Florida became the sixth state to adopt a red flag law. It gained momentum because alleged gunman Nikolas Cruz had been visited many times by Broward County sheriff’s deputies due to behavior issues and was described as troubled by some who knew him.
“In Parkland, everyone knew he wasn’t well, even the teachers and the authorities,” Vandersommen said.
Now red flag laws are pending in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
Both women are prepared to face anger from people who feel any kind of gun control is a violation of their rights. They are apprehensive about the kind of comments they saw after Lorain County students walked out of class March 24 to demonstrate against gun violence.
We saw that kind of anger manifest after publishing stories on the walkouts. But polls show most Americans support some kind of gun control.
The March poll from Quinnipiac showed 66 percent of American voters favor stricter gun laws; among gun owners, 50 percent support stricter gun laws. Those surveyed were split 67-29 percent for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons and 83-14 percent for a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases.
If more people carried guns, the U.S. would be less safe, said respondents, 59-33 percent. Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence, 75-17 percent.
Stricter gun control would do more to reduce gun violence in schools, according to 40 percent of voters, while 34 percent said metal detectors would do more and 20 percent favored arming teachers.
“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than two years,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.