Heather Whaley

U.S.A.

Tag: Connecticut

All Gave Some. Some Gave All.

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Every year, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor award selfless acts of bravery by everyday citizens.  My father Paul Bucha, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was one of the creators of this citizen’s award. Past recipients of the award, called the Citizen Service Before Self Honors, have included Dr. Jordy Cox of Arizona, who performed surgeries that saved lives in Haiti and the Ivory Coast, Jeffry Michael Ross of California, who pulled a woman from a sinking vehicle, and Jeremy Hernandez a part-time youth worker, who saved the lives of 50 children when their school bus was about to plunge into the Mississippi River following the I-35W Bridge Collapse. This year, the living recipients of the Congressional Medal Honor chose to bestow the nation’s highest medal for civilian valor to the the six educators who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The award is usually presented in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, but this year, four Medal of Honor recipients, including my father, Jack Jacobs, Bruce Crandall, Thomas Kelley, and Medal of Honor Society Foundation President Thomas Wilkerson travelled to Newtown for the presentation.  I imagine that these ceremonies are emotionally confusing for the recipient, especially when, as was the case this year, the award is presented posthumously. I’m sure their families would rather they never had to be there. I know my father would rather never have been in the firefight that led him to acts of courage resulting in a Medal of Honor. It was easy to see this struggle on the faces of the family members of slain teachers in Newtown yesterday.

There was another award presented.  This one from the Fire Department in Winlock, Washington.  Fire Commissioner Randy Pennington and his wife Carrie, an elementary school teacher who is also an EMT and has been with the Winlock volunteer fire department for thirty years, watched the news unfold on December 14th with the same horror felt by all of us.  They could not believe how much Newtown looked like their own small town. Pennington described Winlock as, “The kind of place where men meet at the diner every morning and talk about everything from soup to nuts, and the women meet at the beauty parlor and talk about the men.” The Penningtons felt connected to Newtown, and wanted to do something to help.  They discussed sending toys or money.  Then Pennington  had an idea. He knew that if any one of the firefighters in his firehouse acted as bravely and selflessly as the Sandy Hook teachers, they would qualify for the Firefighter’s Medal of Honor.  At a January 8th meeting of the fire department, commissioner Pennington made a motion to recognize each of the six fallen teachers as firefighters in the Winlock Fire Department.  The motion was unanimously approved.  Then he made a motion to promote the teachers to the rank of captain, and awarded each a Medal of Honor for their actions.  They did not want to send the medals, which are given out very rarely, by UPS.  At a local basketball game, their efforts were announced, and Pennington stood at the door holding a fireman’s boot collecting donations to award the medals in person.  The people of Winlock emptied their wallets into that boot, including one four-year old who added the entire contents of her purse.  Their second fundraiser was a spaghetti dinner, which was unfortunately scheduled on a night when the basketball team was playing a championship game in another town.  Only fourteen people came to the spaghetti dinner, eight of them children.  When they tallied up the money at the end of the night, those six adults had donated over eight hundred dollars.

The Penningtons brought seven medals. Six for the teachers who gave their lives in trying to save students, and one for the Sandy Hook Elementary School community.  Her voice breaking, Carrie Pennington said, “All gave some.  Some gave all.”

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The Vote.

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I went to Hartford yesterday to watch as the CT gun violence and school safety bill was voted on in the legislature.  I arrived at 11:30 and the galleries in the Senate were already full.  I waited outside to see what would happen, and when I might be allowed inside.  The CCDL was there in full effect, and I guess they all decided on the bus ride over that yesterday they were going to try to TALK with us.  There is a stereotype of an NRA member, orange neon hat, work boots, OATH KEEPER sweatshirt, beer belly, mustache, you get the picture.  But that’s not the whole story.  There were also families there – not many, actually I saw only one, but they had two little girls.  It is hard for me to understand the culture of guns, because I was not brought up in it.   I was, however, brought up skiing, and spent many happy days skiing with my family.  People die or get hurt skiing all the time, but it’s usually people who are skiing a trail that is too difficult for them, or in a dangerous manner – usually.  There are, of course, tragic accidents, too.  Maybe that’s how these people feel about guns.  To them guns are sport, family, tradition, and a way to enjoy the outdoors.  If someone told me they were going to ban skiing I’d be pretty upset about it, and sad that I wouldn’t be able to create memories with my own children the way my parents did.  It is extremely hard for me to make the correlation between skiing and shooting animals, or blasting away at targets, but I think I’m right.

The first guy who approached me yesterday said, “I don’t agree with you guys, but I admire you.  You fought for what you believe in, even though I think you’re wrong.”  This turned out to be a tactic because he turned right around and asked me how I felt about ruining our Second Amendment.  The thing these guys all forget is that the Second Amendment does not begin with the words, “the right to bear arms.”  It begins with “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.”  So I asked this guy if he was part of a militia.  He looked confused.  I said, “If you believe whole heartedly in the Second Amendment, as it was written, and you own guns, it must be for the purpose of forming a well-regulated militia, right?  Did you muster?”  Now I really didn’t want to get into it with this guy, I promise.  He tried to tell me about the need to overthrow a tyrannical government, and that’s when I said, “Look, I know you’re upset, and I don’t really want to have this conversation.”  Then he asked me, “How would you feel if a family member had purchased these firearms as an investment?”  I answered honestly, “I would feel they had made a bad investment.”  That’s the truth.  Invest in something else, like Apple or education.  He seemed very irritated, grabbed his jacket and walked off.

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Woman tells off NRA member. You go girrrl!

I was soon joined by another man, this one older.  He wanted to have a little chat about self-defense.  He told me that he’s not going to feel safe with only ten rounds.  I told him that I felt sorry he lived with such fear.  He said that he’s always got a firearm so he’s not afraid.  Now, I lived in the East Village of Manhattan for about ten years in a rickety old building with an even more rickety old fire escape that led right up to my window.  Never did I feel a gun would make me safer.  What I did was close the curtains – thick velvet curtains from Pottery Barn that were a gift.  You could not see through them, and my logic was that if someone wanted to break in, they would probably pick an apartment where they could see what was going on inside.  So when this man told me that he needs all those bullets at the grocery store, I couldn’t really relate to that.  He admitted he’d never had to use his gun in self-defense.  Nobody had broken in to his house, or attacked him.  I asked if he took his guns into the shower, because they won’t help you in a home invasion if they’re in the other room.  He said, not the shower, but the toilet.  He brings his gun when he’s on the toilet.  He told me he hopes that nobody ever attacks me, because I will be unable to defend myself.  I told him I hope he doesn’t shoot his foot off and we left it at that.

There were some very tense moments.  One guy tried to talk to a mother from Newtown.  She told him to back off, which he did not.  She let him have it.  This issue is so fraught with emotion on both sides, but really, when kids are dead – especially if you knew and loved those kids, that grief and anger is the strongest emotion on earth.  The anger of not being able to buy another assault rifle is no match for that grief.

After about an hour I got inside.  Each State Senator gave a speech saying how they were going to vote, expressing how shocked and horrified they were on December 14th.  Most said the bill didn’t go far enough – either far enough toward addressing mental health issues, and so they were going to vote “no,” or not far enough in the ban on high-capacity magazines, so they were going to vote “yes” with the understanding that this is not the end of the road.  Some proposed amendments to the bill, none of which passed.  There was a moment of levity when one Senator said his daughter suggested that all guns be made by Nerf.  He voted against the bill.

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My State Senator Toni Boucher. She speaks very quickly and looks just like my mother-in-law. She was a “yes” vote.

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Not sure if you can tell, but on the top is Senator Cathy Osten. She is checking her Facebook. She voted against the bill.

The opposite gallery.

The opposite gallery.

The guy in front of me.  My daughter was texting from home and asking for pictures.

The guy in front of me. My daughter was texting from home and asking for pictures.

After more than six hours, the television cameras started being set up, and Blumenthal and Murphy were there, so I knew it was almost over.

After more than six hours, the television cameras were set up, and Senators Blumenthal and Murphy were there, so I knew it was almost over.

The bill passed.  I went home, tired and famished, and watched the rest of the proceedings on television with a cocktail in my hand like a civilized person.  I was very surprised that my representative John Shaban, of whom I have been critical for his lack of candor, voted in favor of the bill, while Dan Carter, who has been very accessible, voted “no.”  Dan Carter represents part of Newtown.  He said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned the over-reaching nature of the bill and the constitutional implications will continue to promote the growing rift between those that own guns and those that do not, especially in the Newtown community.”  I don’t support his rationale at all.

The final tally.

The final tally.

It is done.  For now.  I’ve been very emotional today.  Of course, I’m happy this bill passed.  I’m also heartbroken for the families in Newtown.  Completely devastated and achingly sad, especially today.  The real problem, and what I did not realize before I got into all this, is just how many guns are out there.  Guns take what might be a fist fight and turn it to murder.  The reason the UK has a higher rate of “violent crime” is that in the UK guns are tightly regulated.  Here in the US, what might otherwise be a “violent crime” is often murder.  It’s not just mental health.  It’s our culture.  We have to change the culture.  It’s a much harder job, because you can’t pass a bill that makes it uncool to fire guns.  But once upon a time smoking was cool, and people once refused to wear seat belts.  It will happen.  I’m hoping that the Connecticut Effect does just that, and that it is contagious.

To that end, a group of us here in town have organized an awareness campaign aptly called Connecticut Effect.  Our goal is education, discussion, and the promotion of common sense, progressive ideas.  Our first order of business is a screening of the film Living for 32, a documentary about Colin Goddard, survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting.  The film portrays the inspiring story of how Goddard’s life was forever changed on that day, and his determination to make a difference through his work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  There are two screenings, one on THURSDAY, APRIL 25  at 7:00 PM at the BETHEL CINEMA.  The other is at JOEL BARLOW HIGH SCHOOL on SUNDAY, APRIL 28 at 4:00 PM.  If you live in CT or feel like a road trip I hope you will make it to one of the screenings.  If not, come find us on Facebook, or email ConnecticutEffect@gmail.com for more information.

At last.

Phillip W. Mauriello, Erin Nikitchyuk

Last Thursday I was at home, trying to do some laundry, as people do, when there was a knock at my door.  It startled me, and my dog.  Looking out the window I saw a man.  My first thought was, “This guy is here from the NRA to kill me.  I wish I had a Bushmaster.”  No, I’m joking.  The man explained that he was from CT News 12 and asked if he could talk to me about my views on gun control.  Naturally I told him to hang on so that I had time to Google him and make sure he wasn’t actually a maniac.  The guy checked out, and he and his nice cameraman came in and we had a chat.

He was there because Thursday had been declared a “Day of Action” in the Gun Violence Prevention movement, and despite my kids’ pleas to go to home and do NOTHING that afternoon, we went to Newtown for a little rally in front of the NSSF.  It was actually fun.  There were a bunch of NRA members there, but aside from one rude man who insisted on smoking a cigar right next to us, everyone was polite.  The kids had fun getting cars and trucks to honk for common sense gun reform.  My daughter was even interviewed for television, granted it was German public television, but still.

Kids are on the front lines of gun violence.  Whether it’s being afraid of violence occurring every day in your own neighborhood, or hiding in classroom closets for lockdowns, they suffer all the repercussions.  As I said back in December, my children are the entire reason I’m involved in this.  I just could not see something so out of balance, so out of control, and not try to change it. When I was a sophomore in high school a woman came to lecture us on environmental protection and said, “This is going to be your responsibility.  You will have to change this.” I remember thinking, “I’m fifteen.  Why don’t YOU do something about it NOW, so it’s not an even bigger mess by the time I’m able to be responsible for anything?  Where is your responsibility?!”  Maybe it’s the same now.  I’m the adult.  I have to right what is wrong.  Not later.  Now.

We had a quick dinner, and again to my kids’ dismay we headed to the library where our local state representatives, Toni Boucher, Dan Carter, and John Shaban were holding a town hall meeting regarding the upcoming legislative session.  There were about thirty people in attendance, including one gentleman wearing a sandwich board reading, “I’m a law-abiding gun owner, so why am I the bad guy?”  The conversation finally got around to guns and one young man asked Rep. Shaban why his views on gun violence prevention were not profiled in a news story entitled, “Where They Stand” or something.  I missed that story, but he explained that every state representative had answered a set of questions regarding which new legislation they supported.  Rep. Shaban said that he didn’t answer their questions, but instead had written his views, or something.  It was unclear.  So he was asked to clarify.  I have heard State Senator Toni Boucher speak many times, and she is fairly straight forward about her views.  Likewise I have had many conversations with Representative Carter, and while I disagree with him on many counts, he is always forthcoming and open to discussion.  I have not heard Rep. Shaban once say where he stood, aside from a vague, “We shouldn’t just do something symbolic that’s not going to lead to a decrease in violence,” or words to that effect.  So when directly asked last Thursday what his views were, I sat up in my chair.  “I think we need stronger gun laws,” he said.  I think he was just going to leave it at that, but I asked, “Could you be more specific?” He said that he supported enhancing our assault weapons ban.  I asked, “Do you mean taking the legal limit of characteristics similar to an assault weapon from two to one?”  And he said, “…Yeah, I guess that’s what we’re talking about.”  So, there it was.  He went on to say that he’s in favor of a ban on high-capacity magazines.  But when I asked about possession, he said no.  I pointed out that there is no way to enforce that sort of law, and that each of them knew there was no way to enforce that, so what they were doing was, in effect, nothing.  They did not argue.

Which brings us to today.  It was announced yesterday that the CT State Legislature had reached an agreement, and a bill would be voted on on Wednesday.  This bill is the strongest gun legislation in the country.  It includes many good things, a ban on assault weapons, the creation of a gun violence offender registry, a ban on high-capacity magazines.  But it grandfathers in the assault weapons already possessed, as well as high-capacity magazines already possessed.  At the very least those magazines have to go.  As was stated in an Editorial in the Hartford Courant, “Just ban them.”

Tomorrow many of us will go back to Hartford.   I imagine it will be a celebration of sorts, because we will get so much of what we wanted.  But the work is far from over.  The Connecticut Effect is just getting started.

Warning: This May Irritate You

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Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet with Representative Larry Cafero.  Mr. Cafero is the Minority Leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives.  A group of us sat with him around a table and he told us of his desire to ban “all these guns once and for all.”  He held up several sheets of paper with colorful images of rifles printed on them.  He said that he’s “not a gun guy” and can’t understand why anyone needs these weapons. He was saying all the right things.  Until we started asking questions.

How does he feel about strengthening the assault weapons ban – “I’m all for it!” he declared.  But then he began to refer to his pages, telling us, “You see, what you want to do is ban this one and not that one, and you can’t tell me what the difference is between them.  That’s where you lose your argument.”  I asked Cafero who had provided him with those pages.  “Ah, I don’t know,” he said.  “The NSSF or something?”  He said this as if he was unsure who or what the NSSF is.  So I told him, just to make sure he was aware of who had provided him with his gun education – or, rather, to make sure that he knew that WE knew who the NSSF is.  They are the lobbying arm of the NRA.  And, I went on to tell him, the gun you are pointing to is not a derivative of a military assault weapon, and the other one is.

You see, Connecticut already has an “assault weapons ban.”  When it was enacted, the gun manufacturers simply modified the weapons to get around the ban.  So basically, the difference between an assault weapon made for our troops and one made for your neighbor is that your neighbor can’t attach a flash suppressor or a bayonet to the end of theirs, and a soldier can.  Also your neighbor can’t adjust the stock to make it longer or shorter, and a soldier can do that – very efficient for either shooting someone far away, or in a tight space.  Also a soldier can “spray” bullets, so that with one squeeze of the trigger, many shots can be fired very rapidly, whereas your neighbor can only fire one shot per squeeze of the trigger, which, unless they are arthritic can be quite a lot of bullets per minute.

“Listen,” he said, “You guys are going to get everything you want.  Assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazine ban – not possession, but the sale of high-capacity magazines, done.”

That’s a really, really important point right there.  Ammunition magazines are not date-stamped, they aren’t marked or tracked in any way.  You don’t need to register them or prove what state you live in to buy them.  There would be no way to track if your neighbor purchased her 30 round magazines before the ban, or just brought them home from her trip to Maine along with her blueberry waffle mix and LL Bean boots.  So it’s easy for someone like Mr. Cafero to say, yes! ban the high-capacity magazines! because unless you ban their possession it is a totally unenforceable law.  It is a bit of nothing.  And still, Mr. Cafero can go home to Norwalk and tell his constituents, and those elsewhere when he runs for governor, that he voted for the ban.  Because either way, banning the possession of high-capacity magazines, or merely their sale, the headline will be the same.  The truth is a vastly different story, and Mr. Cafero was counting on us not being as clever as he thought he was, which is really very irritating.

A ban on the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines is really the crucial issue.  It happens all the time, a shooter opens fire either in a school, a movie theater, a shopping mall.  When that shooter stops to reload, someone takes them out with a concealed weapon, by tackling them, or simply gets up from the floor of the theater and runs for their life.  In Sandy Hook, six children ran out of their classroom when he stopped to reload.  He shot 152 bullets in five minutes.  Imagine if his magazines could each only hold ten bullets.  How many more children would be alive?

Last Thursday the CT State Legislature held yet another hearing, this one for the Public Safety Committee, which I am told, is where gun bills go to die.  Colt gave their workers the day off, even paid them to show up in the capitol building, holding signs and wearing NRA stickers.  There was one moment during the testimony that really made me very angry.  A woman, whom I know, was testifying when Representative David Yaccarino from North Haven, asked her, “Do you know how many people are killed by hammers each year?  Six hundred!”  Let’s pause while I bang my head against the wall.

Okay, hammers have other, useful purposes.  You can build a house, hang pictures, build furniture, all with a hammer!  If you are using a hammer as it is intended, you will build something – or remove an unwanted nail, or pry something open.  If you use an AR-15 as it is intended, you will KILL SOMEONE.  Comparing gun violence to hammers, or kitchen knives, as he went on to do, is the most idiotic obfuscation I have heard.  And I hear it over and over.  We aren’t talking about hammers.  We are talking about guns.  There is no massive, well-organized, highly funded hammer lobby, or you can bet Yaccarino wouldn’t mention hammer deaths.  If Adam Lanza had walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a hammer, someone would have taken it from him.  On the same day as the shooting in Newtown, a mentally ill man in China went on a stabbing spree at an elementary school.  Here’s the difference between an AR-15 and a kitchen knife:  In China, NOBODY DIED.

Here’s a video that shows the difference between the damage done by a handgun, and by an AR-15.  You can see the results starting at 2:20.

March for Change

Today was the March for Change in Hartford.  I’m so proud of my little town, who rallied three busloads of marchers, plus at least one other bus in another town (thanks Mom!).  We arrived in the morning in good spirits, and I have to say, I’m totally and completely exhausted.  Nancy Lefkowitz and Meg Staunton, the organizers of March for Change, did a beautiful job.  The air was full of positivity and love, and the promise of change, and there is real hope, at least from this Connecticut mom, that one day we will look back on the horrific events of 12/14 as the moment when we woke up and made the world the way it should be.

I painted these signs last night at about 11:00 with my daughter’s green paint.

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Somehow in the crowd I found this pretty lady….

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My mom, über community organizer, who just LAST NIGHT suffered the pain of a Happy Hour (just kidding, happy hour is totally awesome, she will be the first to tell you) to recruit more people for her bus to the March.

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colinColin Goddard, survivor of the shooting at Virginia Tech was there.  He’s the one who had Anderson Cooper all a-flutter during his 360 Gun Debate.  Goddard spoke very powerfully, saying, “We must challenge any politician who thinks it’s easier to ask an elementary school teacher to stand up to a gunman with an AR-15 than it is to ask that politician to stand up to a gun lobbyist with a checkbook.”  Sandy Hook teacher Vicki Soto’s sister spoke as well.  She said, “Make a list in your mind of the five people who matter to you most in the world.  Now imagine giving me that list, and I scratch one out.”  I don’t have a photo of her because my mother and I were sobbing at that point.  I will not forget those words.

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It was a record-breaking turnout at the capitol.  In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and the lockdown at my kids’ schools the following Monday, I expressed doubts about my decision to move my family to Connecticut.  But this morning, two months after 12/14, I awoke and a snow had fallen overnight.  It was a sticky kind of snow that covered absolutely everything – every twig, every branch with downy fluff, and the crazy thing was birds were chirping.  It was the most beautiful morning I can remember.  The people I have met in the months since 12/14 are some of the smartest, most inspiring, and downright coolest I have ever had the privilege to call friends.  This is my home, and I couldn’t be more happy and proud.  Be assured this fight is not over. Not by a long shot. Even if it takes until after the next election, it will happen. Then we’ll go to your state. I see a fleet of green R.V.’s traveling to Texas for common sense gun laws.

Okay, maybe not Texas, but Pennsylvania, get ready.

Gun Violence Prevention Committee Hearing, Hartford, CT 1/28/13

Yesterday I testified before the Connecticut State Legislature Subcommittee on Gun Violence Prevention.  When I arrived at 10 am, the line was already very long, it was snowing, and I was really regretting that I hadn’t taken the extra five minutes to find my missing glove.

This is just the back half of the line.

This is just the back half of the line.

There were a lot of moms there – not nearly as many as NRA members, and most had to leave in time to get their kids off the bus.  The rest of us were in it for the long haul.  How long?  I sat down at about 1:00 PM and got up at 3:45 AM.  In the hearing room we were outnumbered by at least 40 to 1, which is a shame as it does not reflect the feeling of the majority in the state or the nation on this matter.  Here’s a photo of the number of people calling in to the Legislative Office in support of new gun regulation on the right, and those opposed on the left, to give you an idea of how mobilized they are.

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Calls placed in opposition to gun regulation on the left. Calls for new gun laws on the right.

What I heard, over and over, from the members of the NRA and CCDL, which is like a local NRA, is that these people are terrified, and I can’t say I blame them because according to their testimony, they have each been the victim of three or four home invasions, and they know for a fact that the government, including the tyrannical subcommittee itself, is coming to take away their guns and force them into concentration camps.

There were a few voices of reason, like the Skeet Shooting instructor worried that his team won’t be able to use the weapons required for their sport, and the gentleman who questioned why it is that when a young black man shoots someone, he’s thrown in jail, but when a young white man commits the same crime he must be “mentally ill.”

In truth, I don’t know how we are going to solve this mess.  I feel responsible that we let it get this far.  Where was I in 2004 when the assault weapons ban expired?  See what happens when we get complacent?  I didn’t take to the streets when Al Gore was fighting for the presidency, and look where that apathy got us – Iraq, The Patriot Act, financial collapse, an expired assault weapons ban, too many shameful legacies of George W. Bush to name in my current state of exhaustion.  My point is that I listened to hours of testimony from people who are genuinely terrified to not have these weapons.  Gun control?  How could we have let it get this far out of control?  I will write more after I’ve had a few hours of sleep.

Here’s my testimony:

What are you going to do about it?

 

Here is a video I made with some local kids from Connecticut.  Please share everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, email.  I appreciate it.  Really.