Lewis Diuguid

Grandmothers group takes aim at gun violence

People attended a National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence just prior to the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting at Washington National Cathedral last December.
People attended a National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence just prior to the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting at Washington National Cathedral last December. The Associated Press

The National Rifle Association and gun makers have new challengers willing to take on gun violence.

In the Kansas City area, one group is Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. It’s pushing for sensible public policy and more safety for kids. A tragedy with guns led grandmothers to speak out.

The group started in January 2013 in Cape Cod, Mass., after a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The mission is to “to create an America free from gun violence, where our children and grandchildren are safe at home, at school and in our communities.”

The Kansas and Missouri chapter began in September. With more than 150 members, it seeks laws to reduce the size of gun magazines, make gun trafficking a felony and institute universal background checks, said Judy Sherry, the local group’s president.

“As grandmothers we want our grandchildren to grow up in a safe environment,” Sherry said. “My 7-year-old grandchild has lock-down drills at school. I don’t like that.”

Even in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, the NRA and other groups have pressured state and U.S. lawmakers to liberalize gun laws such as allowing designated educators to carry guns in schools.

Mass shootings continue to occur nationwide. Denise Dowd, a professor of pediatrics at Children Mercy Hospital, has dealt with many emergency room shooting cases. At a recent Grandmother’s meeting, she explained that every day more than 80 people are killed by guns in America.

Dowd, who has spoken for years for child safety and against gun violence, said the talk must shift from data and policy to the kitchen table, where people can bring pressure for change. Grandmothers Against Gun Violence offers hope.

“The number of people here is really inspiring,” Dowd said of about 50 people who were at the meeting seeking information on the threats that guns pose. “Grandparents can be change agents.”

Many grandmothers possess a moral authority that people can’t ignore. One big obstacle has been getting men, the bulk of gun owners, to be more safety conscious.

Gun and ammunition sales spiked after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and after his re-election in 2012 with people fearing he’d impose gun restrictions. Firearm sales also jumped after Sandy Hook and other mass shootings.

“The climate has gotten much worse,” Dowd said with gun laws becoming more liberal.

Men in homes think having guns will help them protect their families. Instead, guns increase the risks to children.

“Women and their husbands don’t talk,” Dowd said. “We don’t want to undermine the man’s sense of being a good father.”

But that has to change for sensible gun laws to be passed, for people with guns to lock them up and for America to finally get gun violence under control. The consequences of doing nothing are deadly and long lasting.

Harold Koch of Leawood said he joined the Grandmothers group because when he was 16 in 1953, his 14-year-old brother was shot and killed with a gun. “It ruined my mother’s life,” he said.

“She was never the same after that,” Koch said. Groups like Grandmothers Against Gun Violence will help inform people that guns take 31,000 lives a year, and even more people suffer injuries.

Sue Rempel of Kansas City joined the group as a mother and grandmother wanting to reduce harm to all children. “I was feeling pretty powerless about guns,” she said.

“This is a place where I want to put my energy to help make our community a safer place,” she said.

“We need to make our voices heard,” Sherry said.

Grandmothers will be hard to overlook or ignore. They could be our best hope.

To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send email to ldiuguid@kcstar.com.