Reply to Mr. Garcia

To the Editor:

I was flattered Eddie Garcia shared some of my background in his recent letter, "if you want to talk to us, GunSenseVT, identify yourselves" (Caledonian-Record). However, he withheld the whole reason I've spent the past 25 years working to prevent gun violence: My children's school was victimized by an armed intruder in Winnetka, Illinois, a sleepy suburb of Chicago.

That day, May 20, 1988, I sat on a commuter train in the city, coming home from work and listening on my Walkman radio as another nightmare with guns unspooled. Without a cellphone, I had to sit for 45 minutes and hope for the best as I urged that hellishly slow train to speed up.

As I stepped out onto the platform to embrace my wife, the warm spring day felt as cold as January. I learned our two daughters were safe, but one little boy was dead, five others were wounded, and the shooter was still at large in the neighborhood.

A police helicopter hovered above. It felt like the copter's blades knocked chunks of sky out of thin air and sent them shattering at my feet. A welter of emotions raged inside me as guilt throbbed with this fact: My kids were spared, another was killed. Later that night, as I gathered shards of thought, I realized I couldn't undo what had happened, but I vowed to do all that made sense to prevent the next one.

My path led me to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV), whose mission was and remains to reduce gun violence, not to ban firearms. The ICHV's chair was a hunter, its vice-chair's brother was a Chicago police officer, and one of its board members is the Cook County Sheriff. For more than a decade I chaired the ICHV's annual walk, and I created a contest for children whose words and pictures give voice to the unspeakable. One law championed by the ICHV in the late 1990s--the Illinois Safe Neighborhoods Law--made carrying an unsecured firearm in a car a class 4 felony. In its first three years, this law accounted for a 41 % drop in drive-by shootings in Chicago, according to then-Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez. My take-away: If you draft and enforce a good law, you save lives.

Eddie Garcia questions the value of safe storage laws, even in Vermont where our youth firearm suicide death rate and youth accidental firearm death rate lead the entire Northeast ( Source: CDC's W.I.S.Q.A.R.S. website). Consider Florida, the first state to pass a safe storage law. Floridians love their guns as much as Vermonters, but they recognized their deadly problem with children gaining access to guns in the home and tragedies ensuing. They passed a safe storage law and within its first year saw firearm deaths and injuries to children drop by more than 50%.

I'm glad Eddie Garcia began to tell you who I am. He just left out the reason why. I grew up with guns. I support the Second Amendment, but I'm not anti-gun. I am pro common sense, as is every member of GunSenseVT and every responsible gun owner. That's why most Vermonters and 75% of gun owners support background checks of all firearm purchasers. It makes sense and will save lives.

Bob Williamson

South Woodstock, Vt.

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