The Newtown tragedy, in which a lone shooter killed 26 students and teachers at a Connecticut elementary school in December, prompted organizations and individuals across the country to organize around gun control issues. The banning of automatic assault weapons or firearms with large capacity magazines is at the forefront of the debate. The weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings was a semi-automatic rifle that was licensed to the shooter’s mother.
An Island woman who joined the effort to promote new gun control laws, Sandra Pimentel of Edgartown formed an initiative called MOMS (Mothers Opposed to Mayhem) and organized a vigil to honor the Newtown victims from noon to one on Sunday, March 10, at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. Similar events were held by MOMS in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Santa Monica, California on the same day.
According to a press release the mission of MOMS is “to end the deaths of our children by high-powered, semi-automatic weapons that use high capacity magazines.” The goal of the vigil is “To lend support to leaders who are courageously fighting for change and let them know that we also will support them at the polls.”
In a recent interview, Ms. Pimentel called the Sandy Hook massacre, “The straw that broke the camel’s back for me.” Ms. Pimentel spent 17 years with the Norfolk County (Mass.) District Attorney’s office where she worked with victims of violent crimes. She recalled that while she was with the DA’s office there were two multiple-victim murder cases in particular where she believes that, had a semi-automatic weapon been involved, there would have been many more victims.
Ms. Pimentel stressed that her goal is not banning firearms but only those with large capacity magazines. “We’re not trying to attack the Second Amendment,” she said, “We feel that these semi-automatic weapons are akin to rocket launchers and grenades. In a civilized society there is no place for these weapons. There’s no real reason to have them. Fast guns kill fast. You don’t need them to protect yourself. You don’t need them to hunt. You don’t need these kind of weapons that have a lot of bullets in them.”
Shortly after the massacre that made headlines all over the world, Ms. Pimentel decided to take action. “I called my friend Lois Rudnick, an activist. I called a few of my friends across the country who I thought would hop on board. Lois partnered with me.”
Ms. Rudnick is spearheading the initiative in her home town of Santa Fe. In New Mexico, which Ms. Rudnick calls “a gun-crazed state,” a law requiring background checks at gun shows was recently passed by the state’s House of Representatives. Ms. Rudnick credits pressure from various gun control groups in New Mexico for that victory and said, “If we can do this, anyone can.” The vigil in Santa Fe, which will be held in a large central plaza, is sponsored by the mayor’s office.
Ms. Pimentel is currently in Southern California where she is spending two months near her children and grandchildren. She has organized a vigil to take place at noon in Palisades Park in Santa Monica. She had a virtual presence at the Vineyard vigil through Skype and then attended the Santa Monica vigil.
Ms. Pimentel, who has for the past two years served as the chairman for the Possible Dreams Auction, had initially hoped to have a number of cities and towns (including Boston) host vigils.
She noted that this is a one-time event and the organization was formed solely for the purpose of organizing the March 10 vigils. However, the Facebook page for MOMs has become a forum for posting information and articles about gun control, and Ms. Pimentel said that it will continue to serve that purpose. She urged people to sign a petition found on the Facebook page “Mothers Opposed to Mayhem.”
Ms. Pimentel reached out to a large number of Vineyarders through the churches and other local organizations. “I wanted it to be a simple, one-time thing,” she said, “I wanted it to include people who are not necessarily inclined to stand out on the sidewalk. This is an issue where we can go out and make our point together.”
Of the group MOMS, she said, “It’s a very informal, grassroots effort of people who feel strongly about this issue and want to see change. We want to see action. We want to remember those children. We don’t want their lives to have been lost in vain.”