July 20, 2018

Moms Demand Action fights for stricter gun laws in Missouri

Erica Jones lost her daughter to gun violence almost three years ago in a drive-by shooting. Jones told her story to around 600 people on April 7 at a Moms Demand Action meeting.

“If I have to keep telling it over and over and over in order for people to understand how gun violence has affected me and my family and my grandson, I’ll tell it a million more times,” Jones said.

Jones’s daughter, Whitney Brown, walked down a street in Walnut Park on Aug. 13, 2015 with her friend Devon Fletcher when a car drove by and opened fire on them. Brown’s 5-year-old son JaKeem sat in her car nearby as the shooting happened.

JaKeem, now 7, was not struck with any bullets and did not suffer any injuries from the shooting. Brown and Fletcher died from their bullet wounds. Jones said police told her Brown and Fletcher’s identities were mistaken for who the shooter was looking for.

Jones said she calls the police every two weeks to check on her daughter’s murder case, which is still unsolved. She said after almost three years calling, she started to not hear back from them.

Jones thought about buying a gun after her daughter’s death to protect herself, but said in reality she could not carry one knowing her daughter was murdered.

Moms Demand Action asked Jones to be a voice in the organization shortly after her daughter’s murder. She has been an advocate against gun violence ever since.

Jones tells her story at the Moms Demand Action meeting in April.
Photo by Matt Woods

Five St. Louis moms started the Moms Demand Action chapter for the area after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which left 26 dead. Becky Morgan was one of those moms, and like Jones, was a victim of gun violence. A family member shot and killed her father in 1991.

Morgan said the Sandy Hook shooting opened her eyes to gun laws in America and Missouri. Moms Demand Action pushes for tougher gun legislation across the country.

“Students shouldn’t have to spend their Saturdays asking our lawmakers to do the right thing,” Morgan said. “They should be spending their Saturdays hanging out with their friends.”

Moms Demand Action is fighting against Missouri House Bills 1936and 1937. If passed, House Bill 1936 would allow concealed carry of firearms in public schools, colleges and school buses. House Bill 1937 would prohibit the state or any other institution from passing any ordinance prohibiting the open carry of firearms.

Jones said Missouri needs “common sense gun laws”, a motto Moms Demand Actions uses at their meetings to promote members to combat Missouri’s current gun legislation. Representative Deb Lavender advocated this type of change at April’s meeting.

“It’s a silly argument to say that more guns makes us safer,” Lavender said. “More guns is making us less safe.”

Representative Jered Taylor sponsored House Bill 1936 and 1937. He, along with the four other co-sponsors of the bills, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kim Westerman, spokesperson for Moms Demand Action in St. Louis, said a crowd of more than 100 people used to surprise them at meetings. That changed after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 dead.

About 600 people came to Kirkwood Baptist Church for April’s meeting to hear Jones tell her story and fight Missouri gun legislation.

 

Jessica Coleman is the St. Louis Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action. Coleman said she did not want anyone else to have to go through what Jones did.

“I think that until we can reduce gun violence in America, we’re never really going to be free,” Coleman said.

Coleman asked members to write to representatives to ask them to change gun legislation in Missouri. House Bill 1936 reported to pass on March 29 and is up for floor action.

Morgan said people did not have a place to talk about gun violence in recent years before Moms Demand Action was formed. Morgan described the organization as a framework for people to advocate against gun violence and get involved in the movement.

“Failing forward” is a term Westerman described as a way Moms Demand Action looks at the battle for change in gun laws. She said the group took some tough losses in past years but it has not held them back from making progress in Missouri and across America.

Westerman is not a mom herself but said she felt she had to do something after hearing about more mass shootings across the country.

“I personally haven’t lost anyone [to gun violence],” Westerman said. “But my community has and I feel that deeply.”

More than 400 Moms Demand Action members went to Jefferson City to meet with every legislator in the Missouri State Capitol Building to talk about House Bill 1936, Westerman said. Moms Demand Action’s fight consists of mostly defense against current gun bills, according to Westerman.

Jones did not stop her activism after she joined Moms Demand Action. She teamed up with four other St. Louis moms who lost children to gun violence to make a documentary. “Voice of the Voiceless” tells how gun violence affected these moms and what they plan on doing to change the scene in St. Louis. Jones said the documentary will be shown to the public later this year.

Jones challenged lawmakers in Missouri to see life through her eyes and see how people in St. Louis are affected by gun violence.

“Exchange seats with us and see how the kids in the inner-cities live,” Jones said. “See what they’re faced with.”

Jones said she hopes to start a foundation soon dedicated to her daughter, called “Whitney’s World”, to help victims of gun violence.

Read more stories about St. Louis and it’s efforts to curb gun violence and crime at the Gun Violence Project website.

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