By Margo Cruz and Maura Vernice
The North Shore had an unexpected visit from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday, April 11. Clinton came to the Landmark Theater on Main Street in Port Washington to discuss gun violence prevention with Rep. Steve Israel and families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. The forum was free and open to the public. Residents lined up several hours before the event to get a seat in the theater. The crowd was peaceful, though there were NRA and Bernie Sanders supporters outside with signs.
The family members included Erica Smegielski, who lost her mother at Sandy Hook; Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter in Aurora, CO; Natasha Christopher, who lost her son in Brooklyn; Marie Delus, who lost her nephew in Brooklyn; and Rita Kestenbaum, who lost her daughter while she was attending college in Arizona. They all addressed an audience of approximately 500 people who embraced them and their cause.
The audience received Clinton with warm and lively applause, as Israel introduced her as a future president who will protect and keep citizens safe by introducing sensible gun laws while standing up to the gun lobby. After thanking the family members and saying she was honored to share the stage with them, Clinton opened the dialogue with statistics, which included the fact that 90 people a day, or 33,000 a year, lose their lives to gun violence.
She went on to present her agenda to preventing gun violence. This included comprehensive background checks, the elimination of gun-show loopholes and eliminating online gun-sale loopholes. She also spoke about revoking the laws that grant those making and selling guns special immunity from the responsibility of showing reasonable care when making and selling their products. This, she said, is a rule every other business that makes and sells products must follow. She compared future gun laws with laws which have been passed due to unnecessary deaths from car accidents. This is why, she said, we have seat belts and airbags. She stressed passing gun laws that are consistent with the Constitution.
Family members told their stories—Kestenbaum spoke of her daughter Carole and her daughter’s best friend who both lost their lives. Her daughter’s roommate had an abusive boyfriend, he received a gun for his 13th birthday, had it mailed to him when he became of legal age in Arizona and then used it to commit murder.
Delus was in the military, is a sharpshooter, believes in the Second Amendment and is an advocate for her nephew who lost his life to gun violence. She does not own a gun and believes we need strong gun safety regulations.
Smegielski lost her mother who, in her words, “was an amazing mother and a great educator and principal at Sandy Hook.” She speaks at town-hall meetings, congressional meetings and to anyone who will listen because she wants to make sure no one will have to hear the words she had to hear the day her mother died.
Phillips lost her daughter in a movie theater in Aurora. She spoke of the AK-47 that was used and the ammunition that was designed to do the most bodily harm. She apologized for being graphic but tells her story because in her words, “He did all this with the click of a mouse.”
Christopher’s son was shot on June 27, 2012, and died on July 10 of that year. He would have turned 15 on that day.
These family members don’t tell their stories to get sympathy, but to gain strength and get more people involved in the fight for preventive gun laws.