I used to think gun violence in America was someone else’s problem – something that affected people in poor neighborhoods in the inner city, far from where I was raising my son, Jordan. After all, Jordan’s father and I were enjoying good careers in the airline industry and I was raising our only child in a comfortable Atlanta suburb. Jordan’s friends were well off and well educated and came from all races and ethnicities.
In the fall of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. It soon became obvious that Jordan would be better off living with his father in Jacksonville, Florida as I underwent treatment.
Jordan, then 17, was still living in Jacksonville when my world – and my understanding of gun violence – changed forever. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2012, a middle-aged white man named Michael Dunn pulled his car into a gas station next to the Dodge Durango in which three African American boys, including my son, were listening to music while a friend was inside the convenience store.
Dunn told the boys to turn their music down. As teenage boys often do, they refused to lower the volume. Moments later, Dunn opened fire on Jordan and his friends with a barrage of ten bullets. Three of them hit my son. He died in his friends’ arms.
My grief has been overwhelming and at times it has overpowered me. But I feel a responsibility to do everything possible to prevent what’s happened to my family from happening to anyone else.
Not long after Jordan’s death, I heard about Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nonpartisan, grassroots group founded by Shannon Watts, a mother of five in Indiana. Inspired by the effectiveness of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Watts started Moms Demand Action in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre that took place a few weeks after Jordan was killed.
Moms Demand Action helps organize rallies, phone banks, letter writing, and other citizen initiatives to support gun policy reform at both the state and federal level. In less than a year, it already has united more than 100,000 members in every state to work for background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases, a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, a prohibition on online ammunition sales, and other reforms.
The organization also has focused on pushing companies like Starbucks to change their gun policies. Just last month, CEO Howard Schultz responded by announcing that stores would no longer welcome guns.
Local Moms Demand Action chapters are working hard to end Stand Your Ground, a law that the gun lobby helped to pass and which now exists in more than 20 states. To invoke the law, a killer doesn’t have to prove that they were acting in self-defense because their life was threatened. They just have to claim that they believed they were in danger. When the trial over my son’s death starts next year, Michael Dunn is expected to defend himself using provisions of Florida’s Stand Your Ground.
Before Jordan was killed, his father and I had many conversations with him about the Trayvon Martin case. We raised our son to know that he was valued as a human being, just like anyone else. Yet, we had to warn him that because he was a young, black and male there might be times when he would have to be cautious about protecting himself. Unfortunately, those warnings could not save him from a man with anger in his heart and a gun in his hand.
Even if my son’s killer is convicted despite Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, that will not bring justice for Jordan. True justice for Jordan will require that our elected public officials enact gun laws that will make us all safer.
I’m traveling to Washington, DC and testifying in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday (Oct. 29) to deliver this same message to members of Congress. Even though it’s incredibly painful to talk about what happened, I still feel an obligation to fight for my son. I can’t save him, but my deep hope is that by advocating for sensible gun reforms I can prevent even one mom from having to face the profound loss that I have.
Responsible gun laws will be passed only when other parents come to the same realization that stronger laws and policies will save lives. We have to be informed. We have to take action. And we have to make our voices heard.