Our Children Don’t Deserve To Die By The Wheels Of A Car Or The Bullets Of A Gun
There was a time not long ago where in most parts of our country it was openly accepted and commonplace to drink and drive—that is, it was not uncommon to find someone with an open container such as a beer, bloody Mary or bottle of booze in their hand.
“You want a roadie,” a host might’ve asked guests at a weekend party. I have vivid memories as a child experiencing this behavior in the small town in Southwestern Connecticut where I grew up. To say that this small town drinking was innocent or isolated to my small town would be a lie. Perhaps like many things in the shadier part of US history, socially acceptable drinking and driving is something we’d rather forget — like Jim Crow laws, McCarthy black lists, Japanese internment camps and others.
Alas, we can’t ignore the fact that as a society and in many parts of our country taking an alcoholic beverage on the road while driving was socially acceptable — this is not to say that drunk driving was acceptable — and certainly nobody would condone a “falling down drunk” from getting behind the wheel of an automobile, but who, with a drink in hand, was impaired (drunk) and who was not? In those days, I guess, judgement was up to the driver. Perhaps for the problem drinker, friends would rather try to hide keys than confront and try to prevent the drinker from getting behind the wheel — most often not successfully.
One weekend in 1980 Cari Lightner, a 13-year old girl living in Fair Oaks, California, left her home in a quiet residential neighborhood and started walking to a carnival held at her church just down the road. Cari never made it to the carnival. She was struck from behind by a drunk driver who had passed out and then came to after killing her. Cari was knocked out of her shoes and thrown 125 feet. Her body was so badly mutilated none of her organs could be donated. The driver, a multiple DUI offender, was out on bail for a hit-and-run drunk driving offense he committed just two days before he killed Cari.
Cari’s mother, Ms. Candy Lightner channeled her grief from the tragic loss of her daughter and made it her mission to ensure no other mother would have grieve over the loss of a child by a drunk driver. So in the former bedroom of her daughter she started “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers” MADD. Later that fall she held a press conference in Washington DC that garnered national attention and soon mothers throughout America were setting up regional chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. This was at a time before 24-hour cable news networks (CNN started later that year), the internet, before blogs, and before the proliferation of social networks.
MADD gained incredible momentum and on a state-by-state basis, mothers across our country championed policy changes through increased awareness of drunk driving deaths. Just two years later anti-drunk driving laws had been passed in 24 states. By 1983, well over 100 new anti-drunk driving laws had passed. Funding for the fledging grassroots organization followed, including $100,000 from the Leavey Foundation. Thomas Leavey, one of the founders of Farmers Insurance, and his wife Dorothy had lost their daughter to a drunk driver years before. In 1981, the NHTSA awarded MADD a grant to start new chapters.
This momentum of this ad-hoc lobby of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers was so effective in creating awareness ad making social and policy change that less than 4 years later on July 17, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the Uniform Drinking Age Act
But beyond policy changes and new laws, awareness created by Ligthner’s group has contributed significantly to the reduction of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, which have dropped from 60% of all traffic deaths in 1982 to 31% in 2010. Even more, alcohol-related traffic fatalities per vehicle miles driven have also dropped dramatically, from 1.64 deaths per 100 million miles traveled in 1982 to 0.45 in 2006.**
What makes this story so interesting and inspiring is how in the bedroom of a drunk driving victim, concerned, grieving and angry mothers used the power of their numbers to create an organization that banded together and forever changed our nations attitude toward drinking and driving. This powerful lobby, The Mothers Lobby campaigned legislators who previously preferred to look the other way and combatted the powerful alcoholic beverage industry. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find party hosts offering guests a “roadie.” Even better, our children and roads are safer as a result.
On December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza, a 20-year old man from Newtown, Connecticut, used a gun to break into Sandy Hook Elementary School and during a dreadful and sickening shooting rampage that left 26 dead, blasted 11 rounds ammunition into Noah Pozner, a six-year old boy. You know the facts, eight boys and twelve girls, between six and seven years of age,and the six adults, all women, had their lives cut short, like Cari Lightner, at the hands of mad man with a deadly weapon.
Like most of us, upon learning of this latest mass and horrendous shooting, I was stupefied, tear-eyed and angry. My heart goes out to the families of the victims. I’m so sorry. Yet, like all of us, I find myself asking the same question, over and over. “Why?”
So today, the one week anniversary of the Newtown Massacre, after church bells rang and the nation grieved during its moment of silence, I am still asking “Why?”
How Many Guns Does One Household Need?
Why does anyone needs more than a couple guns, especially if the rationale is self-defense and a wish to stand tall next to the 2nd amendment. Why does anyone need a gun and ammunition technology that allows firing 200 or so rounds in just over 5 minutes? And why as parents are we so willing to jump in front of flying bullets to protect our children, but as politicians and constituents are we so afraid to step in front of The National Rifle Association (NRA).
I don’t have an axe to grind with gun owners, and to a degree I understand the sport of hunting, sport shooting and admiration of basic weapons. Plus, I believe that the majority of gun owners are responsible and prudent, and are asking the same question as me, “Why?”
Bullies & Extortionists
I do have an axe to grind, I guess, with pro-gun lobbyists and the marketing of murderous semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines and an attitude that the only way to “stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.”
To be sure, I know I don’t stand alone in this perception of the multi-billion dollar NRA gun lobby, and how it steps well beyond the boundaries of prudence, decency and common sense with its manipulation and fear mongering. With its grading and publishing of our elected government representatives stances on gun issues, the NRA uses its 4 million strong individual members and its powerful industry players in a manner that’s not unlike extortion or bullying. Top that with the NRA’s history of ignorant or imbecilic responses to gun violence in the United States, the NRA seems to be an organization only interested in promoting and marketing guns and ammunition and thereby catering to the self-interest of its corporate donors and members, and uses its passionate membership to influence elected officials and policy. That’s why politicians, democrats and republicans alike, are so afraid of the NRA.
Granted, it will take much more than tougher gun laws to curb gun violence in the United States. It took a lot more than laws to curb drunk driving and change the attitude of millions of Americans with regards to drinking and driving. Things must change.
That’s where the “Mother Lobby” should exert its force. I guarantee there are millions more mothers than there are NRA members. With its strength in numbers, I’m confident that the “Mother Lobby”, a passionate and vocal group of parents who are tired of seeing the lives of our children cut short as a result of gun violence, can organize, attract funding and grants and ultimately have an enduring and positive impact on not only gun laws, but the national attitude with regards to the prevalence of these weapons in the towns and cities of America.
Let this by a rally, a call to action or plea for the Mothers (and fathers) of our children to stand up and against the NRA and make their voices and desires be heard. Politicians need to stop worrying about the national gun lobby and the NRA and instead start caring about and protecting the future of our children and our country.
I know that those 20 first graders who were riddled with more than 100 bullets from an assault weapon that should not have been available to a madman, did not die without reason. Let’s remember them, like we remember Cari Lightner, and make their deaths and those of every other child who died as a result of a gunshot, and in their memory move forward and do the right thing.
Mothers? Please! Join forces, organize and campaign. Let’s create “Mothers Against Guns” or an organization with the passion, gumption and success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and focus on the most basic of family values — that is, let’s keep our children alive — and exert pressure on the politicians, bureaucrats and self-interest businesses to change.
And do this in a way that the NRA will never know what hit them — certainly not a bullet from a military assault weapon.
We can do this.
In memory of those killed on 12/14/2012: Charlotte Bacon, F, born: 02/22/06 | Daniel Barden, M, born: 09/25/05 | Rachel Davino, F, born: 07/17/83 | Olivia Engel, F, born: 07/18/06 | Josephine Gay, F, born: 12/11/05 | Ana M. Marquez-Greene, F, born: 04/04/06 | Dylan Hockley, M, born: 03/08/06 | Dawn Hocksprung, F, born: 06/28/65 | Madeleine F. Hsu, F, born: 07/10/06 | Catherine V. Hubbard, F, born: 06/08/06 | Chase Kowalski, M, born: 10/31/05 | Jesse Lewis, M, born: 06/30/05 | James Mattioli, M, born: 03/22/06 | Grace McDonnell, F, born: 11/04/05 | Anne Marie Murphy, F, born: 07/25/60 | Emilie Parker, F, born: 05/12/06 | Jack Pinto, M, born: 05/06/06 | Noah Pozner, M, born: 11/20/06 | Caroline Previdi, F, born: 09/07/06 | Jessica Rekos, F, born: 05/10/06 | Avielle Richman, F, born: 10/17/06 | Lauren Russeau, F, born: 06/82 (exact date left off list) | Mary Sherlach, F, born: 02/11/56 | Victoria Soto, F, born: 11/04/85 | Benjamin Wheeler, M, born: 09/12/06 | Allison N. Wyatt, F, born: 07/03/06 and of Cari Lightner, F 9/5/66 — 5/3/80.
Notable and worth reading
**National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 2010 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note. 2011 (December). DOT HS 811 552. Page 2, Table 3; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Fatalities in 2010 Drop to Lowest Rate in Recorded History. NHTSA Press Release. April 1, 2011.