Seeking gun control one angry mom at a time
Updated 9:18 pm, Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Kara Baekey doesn't want to talk about gun control anymore.
The country has been talking about guns for decades but they're still out there, going off accidentally in living rooms and burrowing bullets in the walls behind shop counters and sending shell casings clattering down storm drains.
Kids have been dying in their classrooms for years -- from Colorado to Virginia to Connecticut -- and all anyone has done is talk about it, Baekey said.
"This is not about dialogue," said Baekey, who founded the Fairfield County chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control in response to the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 20 first-graders and six teachers and administrators dead.
"We've done enough (talk) and it's gotten us absolutely nowhere," Baekey said. "This is about action; this is about motivating people to reach out online, with handwritten letters, with in-person protests and rallies to their lawmakers."
The Greenwich native is an unlikely activist. She has a fulltime job as an operations director for the digital agency MRM Worldwide in Manhattan. She lives on a quiet street in lower Fairfield County with her husband, two children and a pair of overweight cats.
The Newtown shooting ignited Baekey's long-simmering gun aversion. She left work early on the day of the tragedy and rushed home to see her 9-year-old daughter, Charlotte, and 6-year-old son, Benjamin.
"I felt sick to my stomach," Baekey said.
Knowing Charlotte would hear about it from friends if they didn't tell her, Baekey and her husband sat their daughter down to tell her about the shooting.
"She looked at me and she said, 'Mommy I'm really scared, could that happen in my school too?'" Baekey said. "And I looked at her and I said 'No, of course not.' I knew in that second that I had lied to her, and I was really upset about the fact that I knew that it could happen in her school right up the road."
Within a week, Baekey's initial shock and sorrow gave way to anger. She went online and found One Million Moms for Gun Control, a nonprofit created in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.
The grassroots organization seeks to ban assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, and advocates for stricter background checks and more limited concealed weapon laws.
"We're not about taking people's guns away or overturning the second amendment," Baekey said. "We're about sensible gun laws. We're about getting high-powered weapons out of the hands of civilians."
Baekey sent a Facebook message to One Million Moms' founder, Shannon Watts, and offered to open a Fairfield County chapter. The organization, which is modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has spawned 75 chapters across the country in the month since the shooting at Sandy Hook, Watts said.
Watts, a former communications director for Fortune 500 companies, lives outside Indianapolis and has been a stay-at-home mom for five years. Having a One Million Moms chapter in Connecticut is critical, she said.
"It's incredibly poignant that we have a chapter right there in the Sandy Hook area," Watts said. "Kara has the skills that many of us have as moms. We organize, we coax, we protect."
Watts and Baekey said they think the gun control movement's missing piece is angry mothers. They hope to harness the outrage many parents have felt in the wake of the Newtown shooting to lobby for stricter gun laws nationwide.
"There's four million (National Rifle Association) members, but there's 80 million moms in this country," Baekey said. "When you've got angry moms, you're going to get results. So I'm pretty optimistic."
The Facebook page for One Million Moms' Fairfield County chapter has elicited both enthusiastically positive and sharply critical commentary from the blogosphere over the last several weeks, Baekey said. She has blocked some particularly virulent "trolls and naysayers" from commenting on the page because this group isn't about debating gun control, she said.
"Our strategy is to take action," she said. "I think I've probably lost a few (pro-gun) friends. I really do believe it's nearly impossible to change people's views on this."
The group's first offline action was to protest a Jan. 5 gun show in Stamford, which Baekey criticized as being held too close and too soon after the shooting in Newtown. On Monday she participated in a conference call with the Brady Campaign and two mothers of victims from the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Virginia Tech University.
"They talked a little bit about their stories and their grief and having their children taken away from them at such young ages," Baekey said. "But then they talked specifically about how right now -- January -- is a key month for getting the message out to our legislators that we want reform and we want gun control."
One Million Moms will join Connecticut Against Gun Violence and several other gun control advocacy groups for a demonstration in Hartford on Feb. 14. The date, Valentine's Day, falls on the two-month anniversary of the shooting in Newtown. Baekey is also trying to organize an in-person meeting for One Million Moms' Fairfield County chapter.
"I need help," she said. "I have a full-time job and a family. I need to reach out more."
As Baekey and other gun control activists march on Connecticut's capitol, pro-gun lobbying groups are preparing to push back against stricter firearm laws. Scott Wilson, president of the four-year-old Connecticut Citizens Defense League Inc., said his group will be on the defensive this legislative session.
"We want better firearm rights for law-abiding citizens," Wilson said. "We believe in public enlightenment and legislative action. We want people to be comfortable, safe with firearms and have them be just an ordinary part of everyday life."
Wilson said he was horrified by the shooting in Newtown but does not think abolishing guns is the answer to preventing future violence. He said he would like to see laws passed enabling a small number of school faculty members to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
"The very knowledge that there may be somebody there armed would probably serve as a very good deterrent against such atrocities," Wilson said. "The majority of these murders happen in the place where there are no guns, where guns are banned, and that this has clearly just been an invitation for mass murderers bent on destruction and deaths to commit these atrocities. We need to look for real solutions."
Baekey said her research has indicated gun ownership seems to attract, rather than deter, shooting deaths.
"We keep a baseball bat by our bed," she said. "We will never, ever have a gun. Whenever I think of those tiny little kids and those six educators it just -- it makes me so mad all over again. It makes me want to work even harder at this."
For more information, visit One Million Moms for Gun Control's Fairfield County chapter on Facebook.