We huddled together in the cafeteria of the Dirksen building as Capitol Hill staffers began their day. Twelve moms from across DC brought together by one common goal. Some of us knew each other from our children’s schools. Some of us worked together. Some of us have been life-long friends. Some had engaged in activism in the past; some were taking action for the very first time.
Our shared goal was to tell Senator Marco Rubio to keep his hands off of DC gun laws and to ensure safe schools for our children and safe streets for our families and neighbors. We were there to voice objection to members of Congress, who don’t represent DC residents, making major decisions about our lives.
This is what Rubio is doing with the introduction of the Second Amendment Enforcement Act, a bill that would gut existing DC gun laws and replace them with loose regulations that don’t represent the will of DC voters. Rubio’s bill would allow 18-year olds in the district to purchase semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. It would overturn DC’s current total ban on weapons in schools, eliminate any requirement to register for possession of firearms in DC, and eliminate gun-storing requirements. DC voters overwhelmingly support our current gun laws, which were enacted by our locally-elected representatives.
Our mission, not just as moms, but as engaged DC residents, was to make it clear that Rubio does not speak for us. If he treats us as constituents, we will act as his constituents and voice our concerns to him directly.
The marble-tiled hallways echoed with our chant...
“Rubio – Hands Off DC Gun Laws!”
To prepare for our action, we designated a spokesperson and someone to interact with the Capitol police if it came to it. Our goal was to be heard, not arrested, and we wanted to make sure we stayed on message.
At Rubio’s office, his staff greeted us. When we requested a meeting with the Senator, we were asked to make an appointment. Our spokesperson told them we would wait to speak with Rubio and that we had a program for our visit as we waited.
We read the names of every person killed by gun violence in a call and response style. In 2017, 116 people were killed in DC, mostly by gun violence. Many of the victims were in their twenties, leaving an entire generation at risk. As we read the names, the staff called Capitol police, who asked us to leave. The staff told us we could stay – as long as we remained quiet. We sat and wrote the names of those killed on blue Post-It notes to leave for Rubio.
Eventually, Rubio’s Legislative Director Lauren Reamy came out to speak with us in the hallway. Reamy was polite, yet dismissive. She said Rubio would not withdraw the proposed legislation. She said Rubio’s bill was meant to bring DC gun laws in line with other states. (These are the very same gun laws that most Americans agree need to change so the most dangerous guns do not get in the wrong hands.)
We told her we’d keep coming back until Rubio showed some of the same common sense as his fellow Americans. As we left that day, the marble-tiled hallways echoed with our chant “Rubio – Hands Off DC Gun Laws!”
Those of us who had never visited a congressional office were surprised how simple it was for a group of citizens to enter the Senate Office Building and make an unscheduled appearance.
Anyone can do this. You can show up alone and stand by the door with your small sign; you can show up with your kids and write notes; you can show up with friends… whatever level of engagement feels right. You can make your visit confrontational by chanting and making a scene until you are asked to leave, or you can choose to make a quiet statement. The experience gave us a valuable civics lesson about how to become engaged citizens.
We plan to return as often as possible and encourage others to do the same. We chose Rubio’s office that day, but also plan to visit Virginia Republican Representative Tom Garrett, who has sponsored an identical House bill.
We recognize that this was the experience of one group, following in the footsteps of many residents in the District who have fought to support DC rights and gun control. We hope our action can inspire others and prove that anyone can take action. The important thing is that we do something. The stakes are too high to stay silent.
Contributors to this article:
- Tamar Lechter
- Emily Andrews
- Heather Barlow
- Joy Ferrante
- Kate Demong
- Kim Elliott
- Marisol Bello
- Sarah Gabriel
- Stephanie Altman