Gun control advocate encouraged by youth movement

Goldenberg has ties to Martha’s Vineyard.

Janet Goldenberg, who lives in Newton, Mass., but has a second home in Oak Bluffs, is helping lead the effort for improved gun laws in Massachusetts. — Courtesy Janet Goldenberg

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.”

Goldenberg is buoyed by the actions being taken by young people on Martha’s Vineyard and across the country with student walkouts and marches to end violence.

“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.”


  1. Her well intentioned efforts will only effect the honest and responsible gun owners… the illegal owners and those we need to control won’t even blink… unless it’s to laugh at how ‘unprotected’ the innocents will become.

  2. Nobody would argue with increased backround checks for mental illness, or taking firearms from some nut who shot at his neighbors and losing his right to possess a firearm. (here in MA, if that happened, the issuing authority, the local chief should have pulled his license-you didn’t reference where that happened) The problem that is being glossed over is that there are plenty of current laws that if enforced could put offenders behind bars. Remember the billboards that were on the MA state border bragging ‘have an illegal gun one year mandatory jail sentence’. Sounds great. But its nothing but ‘window dressing’. Why? Because NOBODY went away for that. They all plea bargained down to a lesser charge. Im glad you mentioned ‘inner cities’. You mean like Chicago? With the strictest laws? My point is that the bad guys don’t obey laws, and city cops, even if they do their job and make arrests don’t put a dent in the problem when the prosecutors, with their heavy caseload, routinely ‘plea bargain’ the charges from a felony possession to some misdemeanor in order to clear their calendar. So the thug doesn’t even have a ‘prior firearm’ conviction if caught again. More new laws is just ‘window dressing’. If you are serious about the problem with illegal firearms and inner city carnage, demand the federal prosecutors take over any gun possession cases and refuse to plea bargain the charges. You will see the problem solved. More unenforceable laws are nothing put ‘political window dressing’. Crime control of these offenders with heavy federal sentences will accomplish getting guns off the street from the bad guys without infringing on the rights of legal law abiding gun owners.

    • For the readers, explain why guns crimes decrease during gun shows. And do it without the straw man arguments you just attempted. They’re old.

      • Save your fake news. Its getting REAL old. Since you liberals failed to address the social problems that lead to drugs and crime in the inner cities and ensuing violence, you attack law abiding gun owners. Blame the NRA for your failed social great society. You are clueless about the gun laws as you continually demonstrate. Try enforcing the laws but that’s just not the narrative being spread with the Bloomberg and Soros billions. Both are anti gun ownership for the ‘little people’, and both protected by private armed guards. Typical left wing hypocrites. And you fall for it hook line and sinker. And why don’t YOU explain to the readers your inability to comprehend. You’re not worth responding since you constantly post false statements, like when you said ‘bad guys’ can buy guns legally in other states. Suggest you read the law before you post nonsense.

    • If this would be easier, tell us why a person purchasing a gun the legal way is guaranteed to be a good guy. Why couldn’t he be a bad guy who’s hiding his intentions? After all, bad guys will do anything to get weapons.

    • If it becomes harder to get guns, they will see less use in crime. That is quite obvious and anybody who says otherwise is arguing in bad faith or willfully ignoring reality.

      Part of the problem is that it’s impossible to make guns harder for so-called bad guys to get, you can only make them harder for everybody to purchase. And you can’t do it locally: most guns used for crime in Chicago _do_ come from out of state. It doesn’t matter how effective your gun laws are if a state over your cousin can get you one and report it stolen the next day.

      So we are at an impasse: even a partial cure to gun violence would require federal gun limitations, which are deeply objectionable to a large portion of the electorate. Too bad.

      Also, this obsession with Chicago (and the dog whistle racism that inevitably accompanies it) is unhelpful. School massacres aren’t performed by economically disenfranchised gang members, they are performed by racists, outcasts, and the mentally ill. Again, the only way to stop that is to make guns (or highly effective guns) less available generally, for people who have yet to commit a crime.

  3. No one should own a dog. There is no reason to own a dog. Some think it’s macho to own a dog. 4-5 million people are harmed by a dog every year and of those 25 will die from the attack.
    Some people have more than one dog! That is ridiculous! Some are attack breeds. Other countries don’t have dogs.
    My chickens have been killed by dogs and I even have a “dog free zone” posted. For now until all dogs are gone I will have to protect my chickens. Good thing I still can.

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