Must We Accept Gun Violence in Our Schools as the New Norm?

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February 13, 2018
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March 13, 2018

Must We Accept Gun Violence in Our Schools as the New Norm?

Another mass shooting, multiple deaths, injuries and much weeping.  This one in another school.  We cry, we are horrified, we scream gun reform.  People take sides, it remains very political, we organize a march, host candlelight vigils and then what?  I feel the pain of the families and I understand their anger and desire for change. I experienced many of these same feelings when my daughter was run over by a multiple repeat offender drunk driver and thrown 125 feet in the road to die. He was still driving on a valid California driver’s license. All I wanted to do was scream, why and how could this happen.  But it did over and over again. 

However, change isn’t easy and to be effective, what is needed is a grass roots movement similar to MADD that encompasses all aspects of society.  You must include all the stakeholders involved and reach a consensus that will make implementation, whether it is laws, increased education or policy change a given.  I think it is terrific that the students are taking this issue on but you need a leader who is willing to sacrifice their time and energy.  They need to be passionate, dedicated and willing to stay the course despite eventual multiple attempts to discredit them. You also need a strategy, something I believe has been missing but I will be the first to admit I do not follow these groups closely but if there is one, I haven’t seen it. Whenever these shootings happen I am contacted by a number of people who want help on this issue. I wish I were rich and could devote my time and energy to this cause and help those of you who contact me but I am not. I have an organization, We Save Lives that takes up a great deal of my time. So allow me to make a few suggestions.

Ask each Governor to form a task force to solve this problem.  Don’t stop there, ask for a Presidential Commission while the White House is focused on this issue.  Don’t take no for an answer.  Accept each obstacle as a challenge to be overcome.  Surround yourselves with people who know more than you.  Engage the media and harness the outpouring and support that is pouring in.  People need direction.  Leadership is key and MADD had that at the local, state and national level.  Develop a strategy that people can follow and provide directions and concrete steps that will guarantee successes and keep people motivated.  The momentum, anger and rage is now and now is the time to take action. 

I started MADD on May 7, 1980, four days after  Cari, was killed.  I was shocked to learn that over the prior decade 250,000 people were killed in alcohol related crashes and each year 660,000 more people were injured.  At that time, public health professionals considered drunk driving to be the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24.  To me, drunk driving was the only socially acceptable form of homicide in this country and the attitude towards perpetrators was benign, if not passive. 

I also learned that probably nothing would happen to the man who killed my daughter.   So I became a grass roots activist.

I’ve since learned through experience that grass root’s means “working outside the system to change the inequities within,” and activist means, “getting the job done.” 

The beginning of MADD is a case study of anger about injustice inciting people to action.  You kick a few pebbles, you turn a few stones, and eventually you have an avalanche.  My “kicking a few pebbles” began in my home with the help of my father and a few friends. 

However, three short years later, the country was faced with an avalanche of protest from the long-forgotten victims of the country’s most often committed crime.  It may have started as a “one woman show,” but within the first three years it developed into an international organization with almost 400 chapters worldwide, a staff of 50 employees, 2 million members, thousands of volunteers and an annual budget of more than 12 million dollars.  

Initially, we were mothers who lost children, but soon our membership came to embrace non-victims as well. 

It was gratifying throughout my years in MADD to find that the majority of people in this country, once given a voice, wanted the same things I did.  Thus, our small grass-roots movement grew into a groundswell that radically changed society’s views on drunk driving.   In fact, MADD was considered by sociologists to be the most effective grass roots organization since the anti-Vietnam war movement. 

It soon became clear early on that I must seek strategic allies across the broad spectrum of American life for MADD to be successful.  I turned to law enforcement officials, to restaurateurs, to legislators and civic organizations.  It was only by building broad coalitions of such highly influential constituents that MADD, during my tenure, was able to initiate such a sweeping revolution in public attitudes and laws against drunk driving.   You need to do the same, as distasteful as it may seem.  See if you can’t find some common ground with the NRA and other groups who oppose any kind of measures to make it more difficult for anyone and everyone to purchase all kinds of guns. However, don’t just look at limiting gun accessibility as the main goal consider other solutions that could reduce this violence.

Don’t forget the power of the media. This was another extremely significant factor in reducing alcohol related crashes.  From 1980 to 1983, when MADD was at its most active and visible, some of the biggest reductions in motor vehicle deaths and death rates occurred, due in large part to the media attention we were able to generate.  Jay Winsten, Director of the Frank Stanton Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a New York Times article, “During each high media period, alcohol related fatalities, . . . correcting the vehicle miles driven, fell twice as rapidly as low media periods.”

Before MADD, there was little education in the schools about alcohol or impaired driving.  The press rarely mentioned alcohol involvement when reporting a crash.  Drinking and driving was still legal in 31 states.  Victims of drunk driving had almost no recourse in an apathetic court system more concerned about the rights of the accused.  Involvement in the judicial process was discouraged.  Victims had no movement to join, little or no legislation to endorse, and no emotional support system where they could share their grief.   

The advent of MADD changed all that:

  • Governor’s task forces on drunk driving were formed in almost every state
  • At our urging, President Ronald Reagan initiated a Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving, and I was a member
  • MADD was the catalyst for SADD, Students Against Drunk Driving, started by my daughter, Serena
  • We aggressively lobbied for state and federal legislation that would raise the legal drinking age to 21, and we passed laws that would hold drunk drivers accountable for their crimes
  • By 1985, more than 729 state laws pertaining to drunk driving were enacted at the state level, and the number of fatalities from drunk driving crashes dropped 20%.
  • Most importantly, more than 400,000 lives have been saved since MADD started,

Society no longer considers drunk driving socially acceptable. At long last, in many cases, drunk drivers are being forced to accept responsibility for their heinous acts due in large part to a fed-up public who had enough.

MADD is a good example of how to create change.  We didn’t give up and neither should those who wish to see a safer world.  You can have an impact and you can save lives.  I know.

That was the least I could do for my daughter.

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