It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was far like the present period …
These are the words I used to open my remarks at an extraordinary recent event in Yarmouth, sponsored by the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action on Sensible Gun Laws. It marked a celebration of the new vigor being invested by citizens of all stripes who have had enough of gun violence.
In my opening, I was referring not to Dickens’ tale of London and Paris during the French Revolution, but rather Augusta and Washington, which have become the focus of our hopes and dreams to put an end to the massacre of innocent people by gunfire. Led by the children of Parkland, Florida, adults have been shamed into taking action. It is no longer a cause, it is a movement.
Shortly after I was sworn in for my first term as a state representative in 2012, Sandy Hook happened. The slaughter of 5- and 6-year-olds and their teachers was so horrific, so barbaric, that I thought, surely we had reached a tipping point. Sensible people would come together to bring forth at least modest attempts to keep killing machines away from deranged people.
I was wrong.
I wrote an op-ed on these pages that succeeded only in inflaming Second Amendment absolutists, those who believe it is a slippery slope from universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to the inevitable (but imaginary) attempt to seize their firearms. I stopped reading the newspaper comment section, which had become vile, personal attacks on me.
But I did not stop my efforts. I co-sponsored bills in the Legislature, I fought bad bills, I tried to hector my Democratic leaders to stand up to the National Rifle Association. Instead of building a coalition, I was sidelined. But still I did not give up.
Our children are now afraid to go to school. Or movies. Or concerts. Their innocence is shattered. What has become of our society? So I fight on, and now I see many others joining the fight, people who have never been involved with politics before.
At the Yarmouth march, there were high school students, elderly people, and lots of parents and children in strollers. The telephone poles along our route were festooned with orange ribbons (orange being the favorite color of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago a week after performing at President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade in 2013) and signs urging an end to gun violence.
Many signs designated the number of people killed at various named mass gun shootings. So many. Indeed, I had forgotten about some of them, although you can be sure the families of those killed have not forgotten. Where we stopped to speak, a field of small orange flags was pressed into the ground, one for each gun death that had occurred just this year.
I do not want to exaggerate, to write as if this is the only and most important crisis facing us. Yes, more people have died in the United States by gunfire than in our wars. Or car accidents. And we are the only modern nation in the world faced with the regular insanity of mass shootings. But most firearm deaths in America barely make the news: victims die alone in street violence, suicides, domestic disputes. It is the mass killings and the military-grade weapons that make the news, and terrify our children and parents.
Gun violence is not the only horror that has visited our country in the last few years. Our democracy is under attack: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and Maine’s social service system is so broken that little girls die without anyone in charge knowing they are in danger.
Nevertheless, I have given my heart and soul to the movement for sensible gun safety laws. This is not an attack on the Second Amendment. It is simply a plea for sanity.
If nothing else, before Election Day on Nov. 6, do your research. Make sure your candidate has a record on gun control that is sensible and meaningful. We need a leader to bring this movement forward, not just someone who has just recently seen the light. It will take courage and commitment. Nothing less.
Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, is serving her third term in the Maine House of Representatives. She represents District 47 (Yarmouth, Chebeague Island and Long Island).
Rep. Janice Cooper