“When we’re dancing with the angels,
the question will be asked,
in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?
Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
-Elijah Cummings, February 27, 2019
This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of hosting a fundraiser on behalf of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. MPGV is a great organization about which I’ve told you before, if memory serves. It is helping lead the charge to confront gun violence, keep us safer, tend communities ravaged by guns, inspire other states to follow Maryland’s lead in sensible gun regulation, and stand up to the NRA and lobbyists who attempt to block all legislation concerning firearms. It does all that with a small, unpaid staff, dedicated volunteers, and funding from donations and grants, and it does it effectively.
One of MPGV’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session is to get passed a Child Access Prevention bill so that gun owners must responsibly store their firearms and are responsible for injuries, deaths, or thefts if they don’t. This seems infinitely fair, not least to the many children who are harmed and killed every month by improperly stored guns.
I am a regular volunteer, primarily by aggregating gun injury and death data in Maryland on a weekly basis, but wanted to do more. And since I have kids and know lots of people with kids, an evening focused on child access seemed just right. MPGV’s Executive Director, Liz, and I started planning, and I challenged myself to go beyond my comfort zone by asking pretty much everyone I know to attend and/or donate. By Wednesday night, nearly 60 people were registered. I made extra cupcakes, upped the catering, put out more chairs, and got excited. Perhaps most exciting was our roster of speakers:
Senator Chris Van Hollen
former Secretary of Education (under Obama) John King
Congressman Jamie Raskin
Drs. Monika Goyal and Kavita Parikh, pediatric emergency room physicians, prominent researchers in the field of firearm safety, and most lovely, my friends
Thursday morning dawned and the heartbreaking news of Elijah Cummings’ death spread rapidly. This piece is such a lovely tribute to the incredible human he was. A palpable sorrow spread outwards from both Maryland and Capitol Hill, and we soon learned that even in his last few hours, he was signing subpoenas to USCIS and ICE in his continued march toward justice.
I suspected that Senator Van Hollen and/or Congressman Raskin might not come to our event, and I certainly wouldn’t have blamed their absence, for both were longtime friends, colleagues, and admirers of Congressman Cummings. But come everyone did, and memories and appreciations of Mr. Cummings pervaded the night.
Liz told everyone about MPGV and its accomplishments and goals before introducing Secretary King who had flown in from Atlanta and come straight to my house from the airport. He is MPGV’s newest board member, and he is a seriously wonderful human. He talked about the impacts of gun violence in terms of the legal loopholes that must be closed in order to keep people safe. In early 2018, Great Mills, a high school in Maryland suffered a mass shooting by a boy who’d stolen his father’s Glock, killing one and injuring several before killing himself. You can read more here, but that event, like so many others, wouldn’t have happened if the gun had been safely stored. Secretary King pointed out that the impacts of gun violence spread far beyond the victims: their families, friends, and fellow citizens reel from the trauma and loss, but the same is also true of the perpetrator’s family and peers.
Senator Van Hollen then arrived and discussed the many (!) years he’s attempted to enact and enforce sensible gun rules in Maryland and what a vociferous foe the NRA is. He helped pass the gun licensing bill— which has been enormously effective in reducing violence because guns are kept out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them—and the Maryland assault weapons ban.
Drs. Goyal and Parikh then described what they see in the aftermath of shootings: dead and injured children, increased school safety drills which often result in worrying children beyond their years (one mother, who they talked to in the course of research, shared that she gave her child a glow-in-the-dark shirt that he’d wanted only to find that he wouldn’t wear it to school because in the case of an active shooter, the glowing T-rex might get him found and killed), forever changed families and communities.
And then Congressman Raskin arrived. Y’all might know that I am an enormous fan of his and immensely grateful to live in his district. He is a constitutional law scholar, progressive and kind, unafraid, and in the thick of things impeachment right now as he sits on the House Committees of Rules, Judiciary, AND Oversight and Reform; the latter committee was that which Elijah Cummings chaired.
Almost immediately, he choked up. He and Mr. Cummings were close and I am certain he was struggling mightily with the loss of friend and mentor. But I also found myself wondering if this upset was also expressive of all the rest of the upset he and so many of us are holding: worry, fear, disgust, rage, shock. Everyone is so tired, so exhausted by the lies, ugliness, staggering corruption, and desecration of our democracy. And people like Rep Raskin are especially without recess from all that, as they seek to keep our nation intact. I offered him a tissue and thanked him profusely for his leadership and moral compass, and he told us about the importance of gun regulation, and about the importance of the rule of law, and about Mr. Cummings who once told him, “You always have time to do what you are supposed to be doing.”
It was such a moving, inspiring, memorable evening, and I am thankful. Stand up, my friends! Fight!