“For me this pain never goes away,” said Regina Thompson-Jenkins, CEO and founder of the Tre’Devon Lane Foundation.
In the battle over gun reform, moms like Thompson-Jenkins are hoping to shift the conversation to something much larger. The violence that happens every day on inner city streets is the kind that took the life of her son in 2012 in the capital city of Trenton.
“I’m just one mother, but there are many in the city whose voices are voiceless. I choose to speak out because my 19-year-old son was taken from me and he was my only child,” said Thompson-Jenkins.
She joined a few dozen others in the raw, wet weather for a gun safety rally outside the State House Monday, hoping to keep the pressure on lawmakers now that the issue is gaining new momentum, and a larger platform in the wake of mass school shootings.
“See, the kids in Parkland, Florida are demanding change after experiencing something that urban communities go through every single day,” said 17-year-old Bryanna Martinez-Jimenez, a Trenton Central High School senior.
Martinez-Jimenez is hoping New Jersey will become a national model. The state has some of the strictest gun laws on the books, and it’s helped reduce domestic violence crimes and homicides, yet, she says, people pay more attention when the gun violence happens in schools.
“It doesn’t just happen in places of privilege, but it also happens mostly in urban communities, and nothing is really done about it,” said Martinez-Jimenez.
Right now, lawmakers are moving a 6-bill gun reform package through the Legislature. Though some critics say it does more to crack down on those who already following the law, and not enough for those who aren’t.
In a statement, Alexander Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society said, “We are dumbfounded by the fact that the New Jersey Legislature believes criminal behavior and what happened at Parkland is due to a lack of laws. … This national ‘movement’ is nothing more than terribly misguided children being exploited by those with an agenda to ban guns.”
“We’re trying to work with gun owners because they are integral to this conversation. We want to respect their rights while making it safer for people in America,” said Reba Holley, group lead of Moms Demand Action in Mercer County.
Holley calls the bill package a baby step. Among other things, it limits magazine capacities, types of ammunition and increases background checks. Some of these rules are already in place at a federal level, and she acknowledges just 1 out of the 96 people killed by guns daily is from an assault rifle.
“We are working toward getting basic laws in place so that later we can address other things,” said Holley.
Still she says, you can’t bring about change or more safety measures without starting somewhere.