Five years ago, Caren Arnone said, she watched in stunned horror as the news broke about the 20 children and six adults shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“I could no longer do nothing,” said Arnone, a Port Washington resident.
Arnone said she searched the Internet and that’s when she found Shannon Watts’ Facebook post.
Following the Sandy Hook shooting, Watts, a stay-at-home mother from Indiana, reached out to about 90 Facebook friends to start a common sense gun law movement that has since expanded to a nationwide organization with chapters in all 50 states.
The group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, already has a strong presence in Nassau County, according to Laura Burns, New York State communications lead, with members traveling to either the Suffolk County chapter or New York City chapter.
Now, Nassau residents won’t have to look too far beyond their own neighborhood to make a difference.
The Nassau County chapter is having its first meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Uniondale Public Library.
“We’re really excited to get going on our home turf,” Burns, a Rockville Centre resident, said.
Members can be as active as they choose, Burns said. Whether that means showing up for a rally or creating signs for other volunteers to hold.
Moms Demand Action volunteers also regularly reach out to elected officials, Burns said, adding that the group is not partisan and supports “legislators on either side of the aisle who support common sense gun law.”
Burns said that on Long Island, the representatives are supportive of the group’s cause, specifically noting U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice and U.S. Rep. Peter King.
While New York does have strong gun laws, Burns said, the problem lies in the porous borders between states.
“Our strong gun laws don’t keep guns from coming over from states with weak gun laws,” Burns said.
Of the 52,915 crime guns recovered by New York law enforcement between 2010 and 2015, about 75 percent were handguns, according to the New York state attorney general’s office.
Only 14 percent of the handguns originated in New York, while 86 percent were purchased out of state and crossed state borders, according to the office.
Opposing H.R. 38, or the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, is one of Moms Demand Action’s top priorities right now, Arnone, the community outreach lead, said.
The bill, which passed the House in December and is expected to be voted on in the Senate this spring, would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit from one state to carry a weapon into another state.
The bill is backed by the National Rifle Association, which Burns said has a lot of money and influence over legislators.
Burns said Moms Demand Action is in a David and Goliath situation, facing off with an NRA that has a 30-year head start on the grassroots organization.
“In spite of that, [we’ve] always been very sure in the end we’re going to prevail because what we’re seeking is common sense change,” Burns said. “And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to say gun violence in America is out of control.”
For Jimmy Dougherty, the Nassau County legislative lead, being part of Moms Demand Action is a way to be “part of the solution.”
He said being a member “changes your whole world.”
“You can sit and watch TV, I can watch MSNBC … or do this,” he said. “Instead of just complaining and feeling frustrated I’m working towards something. There’s no frustration when you have a goal, however slowly it is getting us there.”
Dougherty also has no problem being the token male of the group. Despite the group’s name, Burns said, the group is open to all members, be it fathers, women without children or anyone else interested in fighting for the cause.
Though, Dougherty joked, he’s not so sure he wants more men involved.
“We have a saying, in this [group], ‘I’m man enough to be a mom,’” Dougherty said. “And I said, ‘I’m mom enough to be a man.’”
Dougherty said he would like the group to reach out to a broader range of people, though.
Currently, the group’s members are predominantly educated, middle to upper-class white women, he said.
He said when he does run into African-American women in Moms Demand Action T-shirts, they’re often survivors.
“We’re missing a broad perspective,” Dougherty said, adding that’s one reason the first Nassau meeting will be held in Uniondale, a more diverse area, to encourage participation from the community.
Ultimately, Moms Demand Action is about educating the public on common sense gun laws, Arnone said.
One initiative, the BE SMART campaign, which stands for secure guns in homes and vehicles, model responsible behavior, ask about unsecured guns in other homes, recognize the risks of teen suicide and tell your peers to be SMART, seeks to educate parents about safety precautions.
For example, the program encourages parents to ask the parents of their children’s friends before play dates about guns in homes, just as they would ask about food allergies.
Arnone said she would like to take the BE SMART campaign to schools in Nassau County.
Burn said BE SMART helps the group’s aim to “change the conversation about gun violence,” so people are comfortable talking about it and lawmakers are listening.
“We are just parents trying to keep our kids safe,” Burns said. “And everybody, no matter your politics or your beliefs about guns, you don’t want your kids or communities to be unsafe. Nobody wants that.”