For Great Neck resident Lois Schaffer, the tragedy of December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, which claimed the lives of 26 teachers and schoolchildren, was personal.
Schaffer’s daughter Suzie was shot and killed in 2008 when she interrupted two teenagers burglarizing her Creve Coeur, Mo. home. While the killings in Newtown brought gun violence once again into the national focus, Schaffer did not need to be reminded.
“I belong to a club I don’t want to belong to and I cannot leave,” Schaffer said. “And now the parents in Newtown have tragically joined my club.”
The Great Neck Estates resident attended a legislative hearing on gun violence in Connecticut last week, where she presented a statement to legislators calling for tighter gun-control measures and was interviewed by local media.
“I got there [and] waited in the freezing cold with everyone there,” Schaffer said. “There were more than a thousand gun advocates there. Out in droves.”
Hundreds of people testified at the hearing, including gun-control advocates, gun-rights supporters and parents of children killed at Sandy Hook.
Schaffer, who did not speak at the hearing due to the long wait times, was approached to attend by Judy Ellant, a close friend of her daughter’s who now lives in Connecticut.
“They ran until 3 a.m. that morning,” Schaffer said of the hearings.
Shortly after the Newtown shooting, Schaffer reached out to Rabbi Shaul Praver, who presided over the funeral of six-year old victim Noah Pozner.
Schaffer said she called Praver’s congregation, Temple Adath Israel, hoping to offer support as a parent who had lost her daughter to gun violence.
“I said I know he must be totally consumed, totally preoccupied, but I’d like to talk to him to see if there’s something I could do,” Schaffer said.
What Schaffer did not know was that Praver is a former resident of Great Neck who had attended high school with Suzie.
“I tell him my name and he says to me, I know who you are and I want you to know I have said prayers for Suzie,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer’s participation in the debate after Newtown is not her first foray into gun-control activism.
After Suzie’s murder, Schaffer joined New Yorkers Gun Violence. Even before she was personally affected by violence, Schaffer said she had spoken with state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) about her bill to require microstamping on guns sold in New York.
“I’d always been against guns. Suzie never even allowed her children to have a water gun,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer said she does want to ban gun ownership, but favors laws to restrict gun trafficking across state borders and high-capacity magazines.
“We cannot stop people from owning guns. No way,” Schaffer said. “I could practically be a vegetarian, but I’m not totally. You want to go out and hunt? Okay.”
New York has already passed strict gun regulations in the wake of Newtown, including a tighter assault weapons ban, expanded background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
And despite the crowds of gun rights supporters who voiced opposition to new restrictions on gun ownership and cast doubt on the effectiveness of more gun laws at the hearing, Schaffer thinks the tide is turning in favor of gun control.
“People’s consciousness has been raised now,” Schaffer said. “There has to be some change.”