In the wake of the recent shootings of schoolchildren in Connecticut and President Obama’s announcement of new executive orders and policy recommendations to reduce gun violence last week, almost 70 people met at Trinity Church, 33 Mercer Street, last Thursday, January 17, to discuss ways of preventing similar massacres.
The public meeting was organized by The Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) and took the place of its regular Committee for Political Action meeting. It was designed to draw attention to the coalition’s “Ceasefire New Jersey Project,” which, in recognition of the 20 children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is asking for individuals concerned about gun violence to join in a “20 Calls in 20 Days Campaign” to prompt elected officials to act.
“We were expecting between 40 and 50 so it’s gratifying to see so many,” said Irene Goldman, coalition board chair.
Questions from the audience prompted multiple discussions following some emotional words by several speakers including two Princeton University professors: Simon Morrison and Caryl Emerson, who recounted their experiences in raising a petition on campus.
Ms. Emerson spoke of a moving conversation with her grandson about the idea of bullet proof backpacks. The young boy, a student at Community Park School, wondered what good they could do since they’d be in children’s lockers and there wouldn’t be any time to get them. “People with stature have to speak out,” said Ms. Emerson, expressing the hope that there might be conference on the second amendment to the Constitution. It was suggested that the Woodrow Wilson School might be an appropriate venue.
Opening the meeting, The Reverend Robert Moore, executive director of CFPA, said that the goal of the organization is to bring a halt to weapons trafficking. He introduced the Ceasefire New Jersey Project saying that Columbine was the first of 63 mass shootings in five years in the United States. “Let’s do what makes sense,” he said.
Citing a 1996 shooting in Australia which resulted in an assault weapons ban within months, with the effect that no mass shootings have since occurred in that country, he suggested several measures such as two persons being required to vouch for anyone purchasing a gun. “These are the things we want at the federal level,” he said: “Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban; ban high capacity magazines, so that a single weapon can no longer be fired over 30, 50, even a hundred times without reloading; and close the gun-show loophole by instituting universal, mandatory background checks on every single purchaser.”
According to Nicola Bocour, project director of Ceasefire NJ, these three simple “common sense” actions are supported by many gun owners, law enforcement officials, and NRA members.
To effect these will take a lot of pressure from us, said Mr. Moore. “Call your U.S. Representative and if you need to find out who that is go to Congress.org, put in your zip code, and it will tell you. Phone calls are fast, easy, and effective; it only takes five calls for the message to get through.”
Participants were urged to call representatives at their local office and at their office in Washington. “Call Obama. Call your New Jersey senator, your New Jersey assemblypersons and members of congress between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.,” said Mr. Moore. The number for the Capitol Switchboard was given out: (202) 224-3121.
In the town hall section of the evening, the second amendment to the Constitution was discussed. One person suggested that the amendment itself needed amending. Her statement:“I don’t believe it was worded so that it would bring about the death of our citizens,” received a round of applause. Others agreed that it was time to “get to grips with what it says and get it straightened out once and for all.” One audience member suggested that the problem rests on the placement of a comma.
The second amendment has been interpreted as applying to “a well regulated militia.” The phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” has led to some ambiguity, however. Justice Scalia convinced the Supreme Court that this second clause of the amendment took precedence over the first clause, and that the word “people” refers to individuals rather than to a collective or militia.
After it had been suggested by several persons that Princeton University should hold a forum to debate the meaning of the second amendment, Marc Tolo, vice chair of CFPA, offered an anecdote about retired Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, recalling that the Republican had said of the amendment: “It is well known that it only pertains to militias.” Since then, said Tolo, “things have changed in the Supreme Court. What’s in the Constitution matters but what the Supreme Court says is in the Constitution really matters,” he said.
During the discussion, the response to the Newtown shooting by the National Rifle Association (NRA), was raised. One participant commented: “It’s time for the NRA to be quiet. Putting guns in our schools does not make sense. There’s only one thing that makes me more frightened than the shooter in the theater and that’s the thought of having more than one armed shooter in the building.”
Mr. Moore deliberately used the phrase “gun violence prevention” rather than “gun control” through out his remarks. He commended Mr. Obama for lifting the ban on the Centers for Disease Control doing studies on deaths related to gun violence, studies that had been undermined by the NRA’s powerful lobby.
Commenting on New Jersey Governor Christie’s description of New Jersey’s long-standing and effective ban on assault weapons as a “common sense” measure, Ceasefire New Jersey’s Project Director Nicola Bocour’s has asked “If it is good common sense for New Jersey, why not for the nation?” At Thursday’s meeting Mr. Tolo pointed out that assault weapons bought in New York or Pennsylvania can end up in New Jersey, so although they are banned here, it’s important to get them banned at the federal level.
On its website, Ceasefire NJ stresses that the organization is not advocating for a ban on all guns or trying to stop people from having a gun for protection or a rifle for hunting but rather “common-sense gun reform that will save lives.”
For more information, contact the Coalition for Peace Action, 40 Witherspoon Street, Princeton; firstname.lastname@example.org; (609) 924-5022, or visit: www.peacecoalition.org.