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Tucson Opinion: After tragedy, hope for a safer world
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Tucson Opinion: After tragedy, hope for a safer world

Pam Simon tells the story of how Jan. 8 survivors and Sandy Hook parents came together

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Pam Simon, a survivor of the January 8th shooting in 2011, in Ft. Lowell Park, Tucson, on January 6, 2021.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

On Dec. 14, 2012, I came home to find my husband, Bruce, listening intently to the radio. “There’s been another shooting,” he said. “It’s really bad.” I could tell, from his words and expression, that he was torn as to how much to say.

I sat and listened. Oh, God, no. Twenty tiny, 5- and 6-year-olds. Kindergartners and first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six souls, dead. When parents dropped their children off that morning, they’d understood a grade school in a small town to be a haven. A grade school. Where were children safe in America?

Surely this loss of innocents will propel everyone into action, I thought. Congress will pass a background-check bill, put resources into school counselors and mental health agencies. How could they not? A wave of cold anger rose in me as well as determination to act.

Only a month later, Roxanna Green and I traveled to Newtown at the invitation of Sandy Hook Promise. It was early morning when we arrived at the historic town hall. We had agreed to do an interview on CNN’s morning show and, as a camerawoman clipped a microphone to my collar, I considered the audience that would hear my words. What could I say to propel them to action? To help them see that these very cameras could easily be outside their home or workplace or their child’s school? Newtown could be their town.

When the interview concluded, we joined community members inside the town hall. Parents of the victims sat in huddled clusters, their eyes glazed and hollow. Many held 8-by-10 pictures of a child. Their child.

As Roxanna moved about the room, offering comfort to each family, she introduced me as a friend of Gabby Giffords, who had been wounded in Tucson. They expressed admiration that I would come to comfort them after recovering from such a terrible experience. I didn’t know how to say it — a bullet to the chest seemed no more than a scratch compared to the wounds they had just experienced and would endure for a lifetime.

In the presence of such unspeakable sadness, I longed for a movement. A groundswell of voices shouting our anger, frustration and demands for change. I did not know that at that very moment a mother of five, devastated by the deaths at Newtown, was catching lightning in a bottle. Shannon Watts had no personal experience with gun violence, but she was a parent and that bond drove her to form Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Shannon sensed, correctly, that the conviction of mothers fighting to protect the safety of their children was a force far more potent than that of lobbyists trying to protect firearm manufactures’ bottom line.

The Arizona chapter started with just a few women around a kitchen table; we reached out to others, planned meetings and held vigils. In the months to come, galleries of state capitols across the nation were filling with women wearing red MOMS T-shirts, providing a counterbalance to the gun lobbyists who expected their bills to sail through unchallenged.

Two years later, we planned an Advocacy Day in Phoenix. On the morning of the event, Bruce and I were awakened by the buzz of my phone — an excited dad-to-be was calling from New York City to say that our daughter-in-law was in labor. With little to do but wait, Bruce and I continued with our plans and headed to the state Capitol.

Once there, I was elated to see a sizable crowd of dedicated women (and a few guys) really wanting to make a difference on the issue of gun violence. We met with our representatives and then at noon gathered outside the Capitol for a press conference. Bruce and I tried our son’s phone again. Still no answer. Maybe he was in the delivery room. As a procession of speakers took the stage, I tried to focus to calm my nerves.

“The next speaker was on the staff of Congresswoman Giffords and was wounded along with her in the Tucson shooting,” the emcee said. “Since then, she has become an advocate for gun violence prevention. Please welcome Pam Simon.”

Looking out at the crowd, I saw a movement of warriors who would not stop until those in power sat up and listened.

“Right now, on the other side of the country, a baby girl is about to come into the world. Love of my family, my children, my soon- to-be grandchild — that is what makes this issue so real for me. I want a safer world for my granddaughter, who I am so excited to meet. A safer world for all of our children and grandchildren. Together, lifting our voices, holding our elected officials accountable, electing those that will pass laws to prevent gun violence, we can make a difference!”

Driving home, the phone rang. It was our son. “She’s here! Everyone is fine.”

She had arrived. Through tears, we shouted our congratulations. If, on Jan. 8, that bullet had changed course by less than an inch, I would not have survived to become a grandmother. I looked out across the desert landscape and was filled with gratitude.

Pam Simon is a survivor of the Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson shooting, a former teacher and a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

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