By Melissa Quinn
A new coalition of local mothers will combat gun violence, betting that standing together will help make communities safer.
The group of about 30 call their fledgling organization MOURN — Mothers United for Reform Now — and the women gathered last week to discuss the gun-related tragedies plaguing the country as well as to create a plan to push for tougher firearm legislation.
The mothers were called to action following the massacre in Newtown, Conn., which saw 20 children and six adults killed at the hands of a lone gunman. Founders Laurie Chidlow and Laura Fisher hope to raise awareness about what they consider the dangers of firearms in the Port City and elsewhere.
“How did this happen?” Chidlow asked the group at a meeting February 21. “Aren’t we supposed to be the most fortunate people in the world, in this country? … How did this happen?”
Despite their self-chosen moniker, many of the group’s members consider themselves more than just mothers — they are wives, PTA members and businesswomen — and they call themselves “busy activists.”
In addition to their day-to-day activities, members place calls to “target congressmen,” such as Sen. Mark Warner (D) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-7), pushing for the tougher gun-control measures debated in Washington. Several participated in the Million Mom March last month, and the group plans to head across the river for another rally on Capitol Hill.
“We need to put real fear into the owners of these guns that they are liable for such tragedies,” Chidlow said.
The women have called on parents with firearms to keep them secure, not only for the safety of their children but also for the safety of the whole community. Before wreaking havoc at Sandy Hook Elementary School, shooter Adam Lanza murdered his mother and stole her firearm.
To help effectively market their message and drum up support from the community, the mothers turned to Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. His group serves as a counterweight to the National Rifle Association.
Horwitz encouraged MOURN members to connect with people using emotion instead of statistics. Together, they also strategized effective ways to make firearms less accessible — like advocating for stricter background checks and an assault weapons ban.
“We do not need those types of weapons in our community,” Horwitz said. “Don’t let the Second Amendment trump what you do. Get out there and say it loud, ‘I have rights too.’ The first line of the Constitution says ‘ensure domestic tranquility.’”
The group also welcomed Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot twice in the head in 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus. Since then, Haas has joined the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and remains vocal about the need for stricter gun laws.
“It’s harder to get a puppy at the pound than it is to get a firearm,” she said. “We’ve gone over the cliff with the weak gun laws.”
Haas encouraged the group to take action every day by phoning targeted congress members, writing letters and visiting their district offices.
While people from across the country have joined the gun debate, women are going to settle the issue, she said.
Haas’ message wasn’t lost on the women in attendance. Though one member described Virginia as a “gun-happy state,” they remain committed to the fight. Anti-gun legislators struggled — and largely failed — to get stricter firearm laws through the state Legislature during the most recent General Assembly session.
But in Alexandria, at least, MOURN has powerful allies. Mayor Bill Euille is one of more than 800 mayors nationwide who joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns campaign. And state Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-45) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) filed several gun-control bills in Richmond during the legislative session.