Taking a Stand Against Gun Violence
Jeri Bonavia’s fight for commonsense reforms
Jeri Bonavia is the executive director of WAVE Educational Fund, a statewide, grassroots organization dedicated to preventing gun violence.
What is your take on what happened in the Senate?
It was an absolute disgrace. The senators who voted against gun policy reform need to do some real soul searching. Right before the votes, I happened to be reading about one of the children who was killed at Sandy Hook. The parents of this little boy insisted on an open casket, even though his jaw and hand had been blown off. They wanted people to see what happens to a tiny body that has been riddled with bullets; they wanted people to see what gun violence looks like.
Having just read that article, it was particularly stunning and jarring to listen to a group of senators bloviating about protecting the Second Amendment and saying nothing about protecting our children. It was truly a pitiful display of the most morally corrupt aspect of politics in our country. Here's the interesting thing, though. This time—at this moment in history—I don't think they'll get away with it. This time, the American people were watching closely, and, frankly, they were disgusted by what they saw.
Poll after poll has shown that more than 90% of Americans support background checks on gun sales. How do you explain the disconnect between the actions of legislators and the opinions of their constituents?
Before Newtown, there was an accepted political calculation that money plus intimidation and bullying equaled politicians doing exactly what the gun lobby told them to do. Clearly, some elected officials don’t understand that the calculation has changed, but it most certainly has. I am so impressed by how much deep knowledge people have acquired in a short period of time and by how willing they are to use that knowledge to get actively involved in demanding change.
What do you see happening next?
I have never seen the public so engaged on this issue as they are now. If we can sustain this intensity, I think anything is possible. Remember, for the first time in nearly two decades, we had a majority of senators voting in favor of commonsense gun policy reforms. It was Sen. Ron Johnson and a bloc of extremist legislators who brought it to a halt. If the pushback from constituents is strong enough, I think moving legislation forward at the national level is still quite possible. In addition, there will be a real push for legislation at the state level.
Gov. Walker and the Republican leadership have already indicated that they’re not interested in gun violence prevention legislation, but do you still think it’s possible?
Absolutely. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it’s absolutely possible. Polling of likely voters in Wisconsin has shown overwhelming public support for commonsense policies, like background checks on all gun sales. Look, when a particular policy gets 55% or 60% support, politicians sit up and take notice. The background check policy has close to 90% support in Wisconsin. That’s unheard of. Again, according to polling, nothing else enjoys that unanimity of support in our state—other than Aaron Rodgers.
What do you recommend citizens do?
Get involved! Write letters to the editor, contact your legislators in Congress or in the Wisconsin Legislature, participate in protests, or call us, and we’ll find a way to get you involved. Most gun violence prevention organizations are severely underfunded compared to the gun lobby, and, as we all know now, that matters. If you’re not able to participate in those ways, you can still help by simply getting informed and spreading your knowledge. The most important thing to remember is that gun violence is preventable, and, if we’re all involved, if we’re all working together, we can finally put an end to a problem that, for far too long, has devastated families all across our nation.
Ms. Bonavia can be reached at 414-351-9283 or Wave@WaveEdFund.org.