“You don’t have to be a mother…”

Here at Bullet Counter Points we like to highlight the exceptional work that everyday Americans are doing to prevent gun violence in their communities. Today we focus on a Virginia mother whose work has reached beyond her state and had a national impact.

When the tragedy at Virginia Tech occurred on April 16, 2007, Abby Spangler, like so many other Americans, was overcome by grief. Yet another school shooting—this time the deadliest in American history—had extinguished 32 bright lives. Abby knew little about federal and state gun laws at that point, but as reports of Seung-Hui Cho’s mental health problems and handgun purchases appeared in the media, she suddenly realized “just how lax and ineffective our gun laws are in this country.”

Abby-Speaking-at-Lie-In (1)Abby knew the typical response to such tragedies was to conduct candlelight vigils in honor of the victims. But she envisioned a day when candlelight vigils would become a thing of the past. With a mind on preventing future tragedies, she thought, “If we want to truly memorialize these victims, we have to fight for change and strengthen our gun laws.” As she noted, “The status quo was simply not working.” Time and time again, the complacency of elected officials had failed to produce meaningful reform.

So Abby stood up for the safety and well being of millions of American families by lying down. She conceived of a new form of protest, the “Lie-In,” to bridge the gap between our increasingly apathetic society and the great protest movements of the civil rights era. A Lie-In involves 32 people (the number of victims at Virginia Tech and the number of Americans who die each day from gun homicide) who lay on the ground for three minutes of silence and reflection (symbolizing the brief amount of time it takes to buy a gun in America). Abby conducted the first Lie-In with other mothers in front of City Hall in Alexandria, Virginia, and then founded the group ProtestEasyGuns.com. By February 2008, she had helped to inspire and organize 37 other Lie-Ins in towns and cities across America.

It was on April 16, 2008, however, that the Lie-In movement would reach a new level. On the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, more than 70 Lie-Ins were conducted in 29 states and the District of Columbia, where several hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol. Gun violence survivors, their friends, and families were heartened beyond their hopes and dreams by the Lie-Ins as they witnessed the growing collective of Americans determined to prevent future suffering.

Regarding the future of the gun control movement, Abby believes “the framework is there, but we need to mobilize the American people and create a social movement. It’s going to take people to put their feet down and say, “‘we won’t allow our fellow citizens to die.’” She is encouraged to see some movement in the U.S. Congress, with Senators Lautenberg and Reed having recently introduced a bill to close the Gun Show Loophole.

Abby is quick to point out that she is just an ordinary person, and that we all can make a difference in the struggle to save lives lost to gun violence: “You don’t have to be a mother, you just have to love someone enough that you wouldn’t want them to be ripped from you.”

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