Leaving a Legacy of a Safer Society

When people think of the word “grandmother,” certain common associations come to mind: wise, nurturing, retired. But a group of Seattle area grandmothers have added another important term to that list: activist. Deeply dismayed by the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, four local women, still in shock and grief about the massacre, gathered for coffee and brainstorming about what they could do to prevent further gun violence. “We were all grandmothers of 6-year-olds,” says one of the four founders, Margy Heldring, “We realized it could have been us.”

This get-together resulted in the formation of the grassroots advocacy group Grandmothers Against Gun Violence (GAGV). The organization, now with at least 700 supporters, has developed a critical presence around Washington state as a voice for gun legislation aimed at reducing injuries and deaths from guns. Women’s reasons for joining GAGV are varied. Some feel it is their civic duty. Others relate it to a personal experience.  All want to leave a legacy of a safer society for generations to follow.

Kathy Young, the grandmother of two teenage boys, had a deeply personal reason for joining GAGV. In 1989, her 17-year-old daughter shot and killed herself with a gun that was given to her by an adult with whom she had spent time when she was having personal problems. By the time GAGV formed 23 years later, the issue of gun violence remained a high priority for Young. “I just feel very strongly that we need a little more (say) over who does and doesn’t get a gun,” she says. “We need to understand who has them and why.” GAGV has given Young beneficial social support as well as a platform for sharing testimony with the Washington State Legislature to advocate for improved common sense gun laws.

Ann Buchner, a GAGV member and donor, first started learning about the deleterious effects of guns from her father, a surgeon who used his vocation to share the statistics about gun injuries with his adult children starting in the 1970s. Buchner took interest then, and subsequently had a couple of unpleasant personal circumstances related to guns. “I have just always found guns frightening,” Buchner says. So when GAGV formed in her neighborhood, she decided to join. Now a resident at the Horizon House retirement community, Buchner works to share information about gun control and legislation with fellow residents. She hopes to organize a speakers bureau to address the issue, especially around the time of any election that might impact gun laws. It is this type of grassroots action that defines GAGV’s approach to improving knowledge and legislation about reducing gun violence.

Susan Woods, who joined GAGV soon after its inception, describes herself as having a long history of activism. She has invested her time and energy in political campaigns and legislative improvements, and she finds deep meaning in the organization’s mission. “GAGV speaks to me personally,” Woods shares.” It brings together people in my age group, motivates and empowers us to stand up and speak out. GAGV’s impact is in its numbers, its consistency, and its relentlessness.”

Of course, there are grandfathers against gun violence. But, notes co-founder Heldring, “It has often, maybe even always been women who lead the way on social change. Now we are grandmothers and still have a zest for activism. The energy and commitment of our members and supporters never runs down. We show up, stand up, speak up. It is an honor to belong to this community of women.”

Although GAGV membership is robust and impressive, they are always looking for more people to help with the cause, whether by attending events intended to increase knowledge about gun safety, traveling to Olympia to show political support for gun legislation, raising or donating funds to support the organization’s mission, or forging new channels through which GAGV’s goals of reducing gun violence can be met. Membership is $20 per year. To learn more or join, visit grandmothersagainstgunviolence.org, or search for Grandmothers Against Gun Violence on Facebook.

Susan Brandzel is a freelance writer from Bainbridge Island. In high school, she was voted “Most Likely to Be a Talk Show Host.” She subsequently translated her curious compunctions into a vocation that gives voice to the human experience. In addition to writing, Susan is a public health professional and mother to two daughters and a rescue dog from Guatemala.

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