Gunning for It: Parents Push for “Sanity” in Utah

When a gunman dressed for war strode into a Colorado movie theatre and slaughtered 12 people, including a 6-year-old girl, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises last summer, Miriam Walkingshaw was only one state away. This mass shooting, which also injured 58 people, prompted Walkingshaw to research Utah’s gun policies. ‘I realized this can happen here,’ she said, and she was concerned for family wellness in her own town.

Then, when the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre took place five months later, Walkingshaw decided it was time to speak out. According to Walkingshaw, ‘So many friends and family members told me not to. “This is the price we pay for gun rights and there’s nothing we can do”. That horrified me even more. It really motivated me.’ As a result, Utah Parents Against Gun Violence — a grass-roots group with roughly 40 members and 150 Facebook followers — has emerged, fighting for common-sense gun policy and ‘sanity’ on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

Co-founders Walkingshaw and Monica Bellenger discovered passionate mothers in their own backyard when they were chatting online after the Connecticut shooting. Bellenger says, ‘We found that there were a lot of people locally who felt lost — who felt they wanted to do something. While Utah is a very conservative state, the gun-rights advocates were getting all the attention. The other side of the debate hasn’t had much of an outlet — we want to provide that.’

Ellen Brady, a Parents member who also serves as a legislative district chairwoman and Democratic delegate, explains, ‘Here, passing something that is so blatantly common sense when it comes to guns feels like a major effort. Stopping things from getting even more insane feels like victory.’ During the 2013 Utah Legislature, the group saturated social media, penned opinion pieces and stacked committee hearings — mostly in opposition to the HB76 constitutional-carry bill. This was vetoed in March by Govenor Gary Herbert, and Bellenger notes, ‘Showing up is half the battle. We’re going to continue. This is a long-term thing.’

Stan Holmes, a Vietnam veteran and NRA member who will complete a 30-year teaching career at Alta High this spring, comments, ‘Our focus right now is to connect with kindred parent spirits who don’t want to see another Sandy Hook happen here. It’s a matter of pushing the conversation forward.’ According to Holmes, ‘We’re just totally unprepared.’ The teacher advocates better coordination in schools rather than arming teachers. ‘That would be a policeman’s worst nightmare,’ he says.

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