'Lone wolf' Brunswick grandmother organizing against gun violence

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BRUNSWICK — When Tyrrell Hunter opens the first meeting of Maine Grandmothers Against Gun Violence on Sunday, April 3, she plans to make it cinematic.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Hunter said in an interview Tuesday, quoting the character played by actor Peter Finch in the 1976 film “Network.”

What Hunter is “mad as hell” about is gun violence in the United States. She said  she reached a “threshold ” last December after the San Bernardino terror attack.

“We should do something about this,” she recalled thinking that day. “Or I should do something about this.”

That led Hunter, a 65-year-old grandmother of eight, into researching what other women around the country are doing about gun violence.

She soon found Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group founded in Seattle, Washington, in 2012. She reached out to its organizers, and soon discovered the group had offshoots in places like Dayton, Ohio, Tucson, Arizona, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

“What I’m trying to do (now) is organize a group in Maine,” she said. “Sort of like a ‘sister group.'”

GAGV is not the first group to use motherhood as an organizing concept around gun violence. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a national advocacy group, which also has a chapter in Maine.

Those groups are heavily financed by Everytown for Gun Safety Support, which was founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

The Maine chapter was influential in organizing a petition to require background checks for all gun sales in the state, regardless of where the sale is made. The measure will be on the November ballot.

That group’s primary organizer in Brunswick, former Town Councilor Jacqueline Sartoris, said more than 1,000 Brunswick residents signed the petition last Election Day, or about a third of all the people that turned out to vote.

Despite that success, Hunter said, “you can’t have too many groups advocating.”

“There may be people of a certain age and interest … that might not join Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense,” she said.

As of now, Hunter is kind of “lone-wolfing it,” she said. She has personally paid to reserve space at Curtis Memorial Library on Pleasant Street Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

She hopes a core group of people step up to form a board of directors. From there, the board will consider what types of policy and publicity approaches they want to take in the effort to curb gun violence, Hunter said.

She said the issue became even more important for her when, three weeks after San Bernardino, her former daughter-in-law committed suicide with a gun.

“I believe with my whole heart that if an easily available, loaded gun were not there … she would be alive today,” she said.

While mass shootings attract attention, she said, “they’re a small percentage of gun deaths.” Domestic violence and suicides are much higher, she argues.

The majority of gun deaths in America are suicides, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of murder in domestic violence situations.

Hunter said she’d be happy if 30 people attend the Sunday meeting, and happier if there are 50.

“If this meeting is a total bust – I’ll do another meeting,” she said.

And if that meeting is a bust, she said, “well, we’ll see how stubborn I am.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Tyrrell Hunter, 65, of Brunswick, who is trying to organize a new advocacy group, “Maine Grandmothers against Gun Violence,” at her Fort Andross office March 29.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.