On Thursday, Jan. 23, the Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action brought 400 volunteer advocates to Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee, where each volunteer advocated for gun safety laws.
Busses from all over Florida, including Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, departed early Wednesday morning in order to arrive in Tallahassee the night before the event. These volunteers, who chose to leave on the early morning buses, were equipped with free hotel rooms at a Marriott; volunteers who chose to go on the overnight buses arrived at the same hotel, but at 7 a.m. just in time for breakfast.
Following the arrival of the overnight buses, all volunteers, who sported red “Moms Demand Action” t-shirts, were scheduled to meet at the First Presbyterian Church around 9 a.m. where their preplanned groups could congregate with their members. Every volunteer created a mini red flag with “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America” written on it in white. These flags represent the attempts at passing red flag legislation which restricts potentially dangerous people from possessing a firearm
“We have some great opportunities this year to focus on some bills such as 7028, which is the background screening bill,” retired lobbyist Kathy Craig-Meyers said. “This is an opportunity to close all the loopholes and make sure that everyone that buys again, whether they buy it at a gun sale or gun show, they still have to be background screened. It would eliminate the opportunity for the wrong person to buy a gun and perhaps injure someone.”
Once having created their own flags, all groups entered the church where several different speakers took the floor. Speakers consisted of Tonya Love, mother of a gun violence victim, Rabbi Mario Rojzman, Senator Jason Pizzo, the parents of a slain Pulse shooting victim, and MSD senior Sari Kauffman.
“In the beginning of the school year I went to all the meetings, as a rabbi and as a father, and we discussed curriculum and values, but there was no doubt that the most important question that came from every meeting was, “In case of an emergency, what’s the process?”… I am you and you are me and we are together… Help us protect the sanctity of human life by recognizing the dangers of gun violence,” Rabbi Rojzman of the Miami Jewish Federation said.
The speakers were intended to encourage the volunteers for the long day they would encounter. After an hour and a half of speeches, volunteers were dismissed by groups and sent on a five-minute walk to the capitol building.
Groups had all been assigned three or four representatives, one of which had a scheduled meeting set, while the remaining three would be treated as drop-in appointments.
In situations where representatives were out of office, their legislative aid would meet with the volunteers instead and discuss the four goals the organization advocates: Closing deadly loopholes in the background check system, promoting gun safety within communities and supporting reasonable limits on carrying and creating enforceable laws in regards to gun trafficking and purchasing.
“[When groups advocate], it’s very helpful to us to understand which groups are pushing for what bill, especially if we’re not paying attention to it on either side and giving information about what happens behind the scenes,” legislative aid to Representative Christian Jacobs Karina Pereira said. “I think progress [in the gun control movement] is going to be made because this year we are having a conversation, for the first time ever, about a private sales loophole which I don’t think has ever existed in the Florida Senate or the Florida house.”
Meetings and drop-ins lasted anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and took place between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. During this time, all 400 volunteers met on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol to take a photo identical to one which had been taken only five years prior with the original 25 volunteers on the first Advocacy Day.
“Moms Demand Action has taught me almost everything I know about advocacy now, mostly because I now understand the whole process [of how a bill becomes a law] beyond Schoolhouse Rock, how bills move through, how people talk to each other, and how things work, particularly in our state of Florida, and the most effective way to help people change minds and cultures,” mother Amanda Welch said. “The first time around we [Moms Demand Action Volunteers] just hung out in a small little classroom and now we’re taking up the entire Church Sanctuary. It’s been amazing to have so many people come support, but it’s sad that we’re still needed.”
Apart from the Moms Demand Action volunteers, several student groups, especially those from Everytown, joined the efforts on Advocacy Day. These students came from all over Florida as part of the Students Demand Action Florida Chapter as well as from specific schools, such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Rickards High School.
“I think [our advocacy] helps show representatives that we are a movement now and that we are changing the culture so they really need to start answering the people they represent,” said Rickards High School senior Tessa Jones.
While the Florida Advocacy Day for Moms Demand Action was deemed a success from their point of view, this marks only the continuous strength and efforts placed on furthering their fight against gun violence. The next Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day will be announced at a further date, however, member meeting dates are displayed on the Moms Demand Action – FL Facebook page.