Grassroots Advocacy: that’s what will reduce gun violence

Downloadable Media from the 2022 Forum

Speakers at GGS’ 9th annual Community Forum told attendees that successful advocacy takes many forms, from using novel legal strategy to getting out the vote to simply showing up in orange, the color of the gun safety movement. The real answer is to be found in grassroots groups learning, then refusing to do business with, banks and insurance companies that keep firearms manufacturers afloat.

Chief among the speakers was Connecticut attorney Josh Koskoff. Earlier this year while representing nine Sandy Hook families, Mr. Koskoff won a landmark $73 million settlement from the insurers of Remington. It was the company that manufactured and marketed the AK-15 assault rifle used in the 2012 Newtown, CT, mass shooting that killed 26 people, 20 of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“The real linchpin of the settlement was to make gun manufacturers the pariah of American industries, to let them know they court violence and risk financial jeopardy,” Mr. Koskoff said of the Sandy Hook case that took eight years to resolve. At its beginning, he knew nothing about guns or gun laws but developed a novel legal approach that concentrated on Remington’s marketing the AK-15 to vulnerable customers.

In his livestreamed presentation to some 200 attendees online and in person, Mr. Koskoff traced the proliferation of AR-15s from its early cousin the Tommy gun, which was used in World War I and then later by mobsters like Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd. “Today those crimes (using Tommy guns) would barely make the front page,” Mr. Koskoff said, adding later that the AK-15 “is the most effective killing machine on the planet.”

“What Josh and those Sandy Hook families did has put gun manufacturers on notice they’ll be held accountable,” said Judy Sherry, the founder and president of Grandparents, who co-chaired the Forum along with Carla Oppenheimer. “It was advocacy at its best.”

Successful advocacy takes patience, persistence and at the very beginning “just showing up,” said Erin Woods, the local founder of Six Degrees of Activism who was among the panel of activists that followed Mr. Koskoff’s presentation. ”You can’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem; you need to take baby steps and just find something you can do.”

Her words were echoed by Kansas State Senator Cindy Holscher, who encouraged Grandparents to attend legislative sessions wearing orange to show the magnitude of support for common-ground gun reform

A booklet explaining how to become an accomplished advocate was among materials included in the packet of information each attendee received along with a gun-related Fact Sheet, an overview of Missouri and Kansas regulations governing gun purchases and a pledge card asking attendees’ commit to taking personal action for gun safety.

First-time Forum attendee Inas Younis of Overland Park was “shocked” to learn how “explicitly and extensively” guns are marketed to children and young adults like the Sandy Hook shooter. “We’ve created a climate for terrible things to happen,” she said.

The Forum was held at Colonial Church in Prairie Village on October 10th, which was declared “Gun Safety Awareness Day” by Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson. This year’s Forum, the first in-person since 2019 due to the pandemic, attracted media coverage that aired on KSHB-41, KCTV-5 and online. Grandparents will host its 10th anniversary Community Forum on Monday Oct 9, 2023.