As a new school year begins yet again, parents have a lot on their minds. Typical concerns about how a child might adjust to a new teacher or classroom have been overshadowed by more pressing worries, namely, the staggering number of mass shootings that have occurred in the United States this year, over 300 at the time of this writing.

It feels completely overwhelming to consider a mass shooting at your children's schools, and yet it is something that parents navigate morning after morning at bus stops and in drop-off lines. No matter your opinion on politics or legislation, all parents want to keep their children safe, and the rise of mass shootings in this country threatens that feeling of security. With this in mind, I spoke with the local leadership of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter in Springfield about how parents can turn their feelings of outrage, helplessness and hopelessness into action.

Moms Demand Action (MDA) was founded by Sandy Watts in the days following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, and is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. In the more than 10 years that MDA has been operating, millions of supporters have been amassed and a volunteer chapter has been established in every state and in Washington D.C..Here in Springfield, the group was founded by Tara McAndrew, who continues to lead the local chapter. Dan Barham is the group's communications lead.

Both McAndrew and Barham rightfully assert that gun violence in America is not just a school issue. Moms Demand Action aims to decrease all gun violence, including school shootings, but also other mass shootings, homicides, suicides, gun accidents and other forms of gun violence.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine and based on data acquired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms have overtaken car accidents to become the leading cause of death for people 1 to 19 years old. These child and teenage deaths include gun accidents, homicides and suicides.

Protecting suicidal adults and teenagers is a major concern when it comes to gun safety. In 2020, gun suicide among children ages 17 and younger reached its highest rate. Per a Stanford University study encompassing over 12 years of data, men who own handguns are eight times more likely to die of gun suicides than men who don't own handguns, and women who own handguns are 35 times more likely.

click to enlarge Moms Demand Action on gun violence
Rachel Jacoby, left, and Caryn Fliegler of Illinois Moms Demand Action embrace as victims of the July 4th mass shooting are honored at Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park on July 9, 2022, at a community rally that also promoted ideas on gun violence prevention measures.

However, Moms Demand Action supports the second amendment and welcomes gun owners into the organization. The MDA Springfield chapter includes gun owners who advocate for and believe in responsible gun ownership.

Says Barham, "A common misconception would be that you have to be a member of the Democratic party to belong at MDA, but this is false. We have no goal of confiscation of firearms. We just want people to be responsible and for politicians to take the issue seriously so that fewer people die."

One initiative that Moms Demand Action has created in order to reduce the number of gun killings in communities is the BeSMART program. BeSMART argues that secure firearm storage is an essential part of home safety and asks gun owners to secure their firearms in locked safes that children cannot reach, to leave their firearms unloaded and to keep their ammunition separate from firearms.

For families that do not own guns, BeSMART strongly recommends that parents ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other families' homes before they send their child over for something like a sleepover or a playdate. This inquiry can feel somewhat uncomfortable, but it is important that it become normalized.

Says McAndrew, "We are trying to get parents and caregivers to think about asking about firearms as normal, in the same way that you might make another parent aware of your child's allergy. After all, it is your child's life at stake".

When I asked McAndrew and Barham what kept them from being overwhelmed by their volunteer work, they agreed that Moms Demand Action makes a difference. "It may be a small difference on some days, but it is nice to be able to say that I am doing what I can," said McAndrew.

They also agree that parents and citizens should feel empowered to call their lawmakers and share their concerns. "And tell them that you vote. And then do go vote," said Barham.

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