After 20 students, 6 and 7 years old, were gunned down along with six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, Janet Goldenberg knew she had to do something.
Goldenberg lives in Newton, Mass., and has a second home on the Oak Bluffs–Edgartown line.
“It was a little bit too eerie driving in Newton, Mass., and hearing about the incident in Newtown, Conn.,” Goldenberg said. “They live very much like I live.”
At her Wellesley temple, Angus McQuilken, former chief of staff for state Sen. Cheryl Jacques and a leader of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, talked about the need for improved gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shootings. Goldenberg found her calling.
In 2014, she helped lead the effort for improved gun laws in Massachusetts — beefed-up background checks, more rigorous licensing, and restrictions on private sales.
Now with the latest school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Goldenberg is pushing for Massachusetts to pass what’s known as an Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO), which would enable courts to temporarily prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing guns if law enforcement or immediate family members show that he poses a significant danger to himself or to others.
“In the wake of tragedy in California, it is clear to us that this is something Massachusetts should do,” Goldenberg said, referring to a 2017 shooting where a gunman killed his wife and then killed four other people and injured 10. He had acted strangely in the past, even shooting a gun during a dispute with neighbors, according to published reports. “We need to close loopholes. There’s no one size fits all,” Goldenberg said. “As long as we have the Second Amendment, we’re going to have a certain amount of gun deaths, but we can minimize them.”
At several points during her conversation with The Times, Goldenberg made it clear that gun laws have to be created to save lives “without infringing on the rights” of lawful gun owners.
The deadline for ERPO to move out of the public safety committee is April 15. From there it’s up to House Speaker Robert DeLeo whether he will bring it forward for a vote.
Goldenberg said the most important thing people can do now is reach out to representatives, even if the representative supports the bill, to lobby for the bill. State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
“Even if you know he favors a vote, they still need to hear that you want to make it a priority,” she said. Send that email or make that phone call, she added.
The divide on social media between National Rifle Association (NRA) loyalists and gun control advocates appears to be as large as the Grand Canyon.
“It’s hard to say whether this is a greater divide, but in the past 10 years or so, the NRA has taken more extreme positions,” Goldenberg said. “They used to be more moderate on positions about background checks. Now, any law, no matter how reasonable, they oppose.”
There is some evidence in recent days that the light shined by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the support they’ve received across the country may be making a difference. The NRA released a video last week that offers support for ERPO laws.
“There are plenty of reasonable gun owners who understand you need responsible gun laws,” Goldenberg said. With some of its extreme positions, the NRA is “representing the viewpoints of fewer and fewer gun owners.”
“I think it is tremendous,” Goldenberg told The Times of the rallies. “It gives me enormous hope for the future. The ability to organize for the future. They’re saying, ‘These are our lives. This is our future. We want a say in it.’”
Goldenberg hopes that translates into registering to vote and actually voting. The coalition is working with the League of Women Voters to preregister teens as young as 16, so they’re ready to vote when it’s legal.
She never expected to be involved in fighting for gun laws. Her prior social action involved working on her temple’s toy and food drives. But her family has always advocated for civil rights, and that became a passion for her through the years.
On her frequent visits to Martha’s Vineyard, where she loves the breathtaking views of Sengekontacket, her drives to and from her house take her past the campus of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
“It’s a 20 mph zone, so I slow down, and I can see kids playing on the fields or crossing the street, every single time,” she said. “It’s a real landmark.”
And she can’t help but think that what happened in Parkland, what happened at Newtown, it could happen here. It could happen anywhere.
But it’s not just the mass shootings that capture the attention of the media that Goldenberg is concerned about. There are teen lives lost every day in the nation’s inner cities to gun violence. She’s working for laws like ERPO to limit deaths by guns.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “Enough tragedies, enough ‘thoughts and prayers,’ there has to be an opening to make things better. I want to do whatever I can to move the needle.”