A memorable evening for a great cause + mourning Mr. Cummings

“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.

Secretary King

Secretary King

Liz and Senator Van Hollen have worked together for years on gun-safety legislation

Liz and Senator Van Hollen have worked together for years on gun-safety legislation

Senator Van Hollen (such a lovely person) 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 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!

Tom, me, Congressman Raskin

Tom, me, Congressman Raskin

Ol loved meeting Rep Raskin too!

Ol loved meeting Rep Raskin too!

Gun violence prevention event and #NRA2DOJ march

As y'all probably know guns are not my favorite invention. They wreak havoc on too many communities in this country, splintering families via death and incarceration, increasing rates of suicide and domestic violence, and holding the NOT illustrious award as second leading cause of death and injury for American children. 

And while the NRA used to be a reasonable organization in support of gun safety, education, and responsibility, it has, since the late 70s, hitched its wagon firmly to the Right-leaning political sphere. While it has continued to budget for education and safety training, the NRA now has an annual budge of "some quarter of a billion dollars, and between 2000 and 2010 it spent fifteen times as much on campaign contributions as gun-control advocates did," according to this October, 2015, New Yorker article. NRA money spent on lobbying peaked in 2015, at nearly $3.7 million, and last year, the organization spent nearly ten times that, $36.3 million, on efforts to help elect Donald Trump. As evidenced by many such behaviors, not least the grotesque video, The Violence of Lies, the NRA recently released, it is an organization that spreads fear and promotes discord, and it makes me exceedingly uncomfortable.

I have, since we moved into Maryland, been increasingly glad to have done so. We have excellent senators, Van Hollen and Cardin, my representative, Jamie Raskin, is terrific, and as I learned last night at a fundraiser for Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, our Attorney General, Brian Frosh, is too. He has worked to make Maryland a progressive, safer, environmentally sound state and a national leader in addressing and attempting to remedy the public health crisis of gun violence. 

MD AG Brian Frosh speaks at a MDPGV fundraiser

MD AG Brian Frosh speaks at a MDPGV fundraiser

AG Frosh spoke about his (largely successful) efforts in leading the fight for the Firearm Safety Act, increasing protections for victims of domestic violence (nationally, many of these assaults involve firearms); and getting assault weapons and other dangerous firearms off of our streets. He is a vocal opponent of the NRA's attempts to weaken or eradicate reasonable gun safety measures like background checks, and I appreciated so much his educated, thoughtful positions and dedication to Maryland and, by extension, the US.

It was a perfect segue to the #NRA2DOJ protest and march I participated in this morning.

Organized by the Women's March leaders, today's event was a direct response to both the horrific lack of justice meted out in the Philando Castile trial (the officer who murdered Castile was acquitted; the NRA took nearly a year to make any public mention of Castile's shooting and death) and also the NRA video I mentioned earlier. Additionally, the Newtown and Pulse nightclub massacres, the deaths of so many black Americans at the hands of police, the gun violence crushing many American cities, and the role of firearms in domestic violence and child death and injury moved many to get out and make our voices heard.

We arrived at the NRA's Virginia headquarters just before 9am. The DC area has been enflamed in a record heat wave this week, and by 10am, temperatures were near 100 with off-the-charts humidity to boot. After a vigorous rally, we all planned to march the 18 miles to the Department of Justice downtown.

There was a moving tribute to the children killed at Sandy Hook and a number of inspiring speakers, well-known and not, rallied us. You should all listen to and follow Tamika Mallory, by the way. She is amazing!

Periodically, some NRA supporters strode around, guns and ammo strapped to their thighs and chests, their signs held high. They were all male and all white. Their signs read:
Free Speech BY ANY MEANS Necessary
The Second Amendment Protects the First
Free Speech Is Under Attack
Patriot Lives Matter

It seems to me that if you're walking around carrying such signs and wearing guns and ammo, you're free speech isn't being thwarted or denied in any way. What does having or not having a gun have to do with patriotism? Not a thing.

I didn't meet one person today who wanted to take all guns away. Not one. Everyone respected the Second Amendment although there was definite discussion on what the Amendment really says and supports (um, not assault weapons).

What we want is regulation. Background checks. Insurance. Education. Training. Safety.

We want perpetrators of domestic violence to NOT be allowed guns. We want mentally ill citizens to be vetted thoroughly before being given firearms. We see no need for enormous magazines and widespread ownership of assault weapons. We want NRA board members to stop saying things like, "If a man can't rape his wife, then who can he rape?"

We do not want guns in our kindergartens or on our college campuses, in our churches or in bars. We do not want our communities militarized. And we are tired of seeing hate militarized in the ways it too often is (see Dylann Roof's massacre of blacks at the Emanual AME Church in Charleston, see Omar Mateen's massacre of LGBTQ folks at Pulse Nightclub, etc)

This isn't a zero sum game. And a huge majority of Americans do want stricter gun regulation. Some can have guns and others can feel safe; both can exist simultaneously. But not in the current situation. 

The march began around 11:45. The heat index had pushed the temp above 100, and the migraine I've had since Tuesday remained lodged in my skull. My friend and I started off but ultimately decided to head home. 18 miles is a long trek, and I have five guests arriving tomorrow morning. I wish I'd been able to march the whole way. Footage from the arrival at the DOJ is very moving. Here's a summary article with some videos and stills. 

But I feel like I'm doing my part in the ways I can: financially, with my voice, with my time, with my feet. Hopefully you are doing your parts too, about the issues you care and are concerned about.