Why Team 26 rides again to end gun violence

Eighty-nine percent. That is the percentage of Americans who are in favor of requiring a background check on all gun sales, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll. Yet Congress has ignored the will of the American people and refused to act. More than three years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, under federal law, anyone can easily purchase a firearm in a “private” transaction at a gun show or on the Internet without a background check and with no questions asked. By now, Congress should have closed this gaping hole in the background check system, but it has not. So, for the fourth year, we will ride our bikes from Newtown, Conn. to Washington to honor victims of gun violence, to raise awareness of the gun violence epidemic that plagues our nation and to press Congress to enact legislation that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including gun owners, want.

{mosads}During our first ride to Washington in March 2013, just months after 20 beautiful 6-year-olds and six of their teachers were murdered in their classrooms at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we were elated to receive word that the Manchin-Toomey Amendment to make all gun sales subject to a background check had emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, a month after our ride, with families of gun violence victims watching from the Senate gallery, a filibuster in the Senate stymied the bill. After the vote, President Obama, speaking at the White House with my friends and neighbors from Newtown looking on, called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”

We were devastated, thinking we had just ridden 400 miles to Washington for nothing. And yet, we rode again in 2014 and 2015. All told, the men, women and high-school students who make up Team 26 have clocked approximately 1,200 miles riding to Washington to carry the message from Americans from all walks of life that enough is enough, that Congress must act to reduce the scourge of gun violence.

In the years between our first ride and now, more than 90,000 people have been killed by firearms in the United States. According to Vox, there have been at least 892 mass shootings (as of Feb. 21, 2016), in which four or more people (not counting the shooter) were shot at the same general time and location, including horrific shootings at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Umpqua Community College in Oregon; and the Washington Navy Yard. Because the mass shootings receive intense media attention, it does not register for most Americans that behind these unspeakable acts, the daily drumbeat of gun deaths in America marches on. Mass shootings are just a fraction of the gun deaths each year. The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal 92 firearm deaths every day, including suicides, homicides and negligent discharges. By failing to act, Congress remains complicit in the carnage that occurs in our nation due to gun violence.

Team 26 will depart from Newtown on April 9. We will be sent off by other gun violence prevention advocates, supporters and everyday people. We will arrive at the Capitol at 3 p.m. on April 12. Along the way, we will ride through small towns and big cities, with stops in Peekskill, N.Y.; Morristown, N.J.; Philadelphia; Newark, Del.; Baltimore; and southeast Washington, D.C. (Go to our website for more information.) During the journey, we will meet with mayors, a governor, federal and state lawmakers, dads, an army of moms demanding action for gun sense in America, college students, and everyday Americans who are just trying to live free from the fear of getting shot in a classroom, movie theater or at the mall.

At our send-off in Newtown, the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus will hand us a petition which currently has over 36,000 signatures. Our nation’s colleges, universities and K-12 schools should be safe havens for learning and growth, where students, faculty, staff and visitors need not worry about the threat of gun violence on their campuses. The petition calls on our federal elected representatives to make it more difficult for people to carry concealed weapons on our campuses across the country. (You can sign the petition here.) Team 26, as America’s bike messengers, will carry the petition from Newtown to Washington and deliver it to Congress. Newtown’s congresswoman, Elizabeth Esty (D), will take the petition to the floor of the House of Representatives on April 13 and Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D) and Chris Murphy (D) will bring it to the Senate.

Team 26 will ride again because we promised the families in Sandy Hook that we would continue to honor their lost loved ones. We made the same promise to the many victims’ families we have met since then in Baltimore; Bridgeport, Conn.; Harlem, N.Y.; and the District of Columbia. While we established Team 26 for Sandy Hook, Team 26 could just as easily be named for the victims of gun violence in Chicago on a given weekend. In fact, gun violence is so prevalent that we could be called Team 26,000 and that number would fall short of the number of gun deaths each year in America.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Reducing gun violence matters, and for Team 26, our many partners and this growing movement to make America’s children safer, our lives have just begun. We will not be silent. #RideOn.

Frank is a founder and leader of Team 26. He resides in Sandy Hook, Conn. Follow him on Twitter @montefrank1.

Tags Chris Murphy Connecticut gun violence Guns Newtown Richard Blumenthal Sandy Hook

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