Marit Brock. Photography by Amber Procaccini. “Nearly three-fourths of gun deaths in Minnesota between 2000 and 2010 were suicides.”
– Marit Brock
On Dec. 14, 2012, a young Connecticut man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six adults in a five-minute shooting rampage. A nation was stunned and horrified. Many of us grieved and prayed and hugged children tighter in the weeks that followed. But for some, that wasn’t enough: It was time to do something about gun violence.
Marit Brock of St. Paul was among those spurred into action. She had a first-grader at the time and couldn’t imagine “this school full of happy first-graders” plunged into terror. An advocacy group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America had formed on Facebook in response to the shooting, and Brock joined, becoming a founding member of the Minnesota chapter. She is now the volunteer chapter leader.
Moms Demand Action is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization focused on ending gun violence through legislative advocacy, education and corporate campaigns. Minnesota chapter members host informational house parties, make phone calls, assist in training sessions and meet with local legislators. Brock estimates there are 400 active members; tens of thousands more have participated at events, signed online petitions, and more. The common thread among them is concern for children’s safety. People hear about violence and lockdown drills and wonder, “What kind of world have we created for our children?” Brock says. “That’s not the world that I want. We want to keep our kids safe.
“Moms Demand Action’s work is changing the conversation around guns and starting new conversations at a place where we can all agree,” Brock says. The group supports Second Amendment rights and works toward finding practical solutions to preventing gun deaths. For example, the Minnesota chapter is focused on criminal background checks for all gun sales. An estimated forty percent of gun sales in Minnesota happen outside official channels – for example, between individuals – and thus are not subject to background checks and their accompanying waiting periods. Based on results in other states, closing that loophole could reduce domestic partner and law enforcement shootings, Brock says.
Brock’s brother Phillip took his own life with his hunting rifle when he was 26.
Getting that gun was a rite of passage in Brock’s family; all the boys got a hunting rifle from grandpa at a certain age. It was not kept locked up. “It was sort of a tool,” like a set of golf clubs or skis, Brock explains, and was treated as such. Her brother knew it was right where he’d left it after hunting, with accessible ammunition.
“What would have happened if we had just secured it?” Brock’s mother wonders, still carrying guilt 14 years later. According to a report by the Minnesota Department of Health, nearly three-fourths of gun deaths in Minnesota between 2000 and 2010 were suicides. And according to a Harvard study, a state’s suicide rate is linked to its gun ownership rate.
Brock’s father now advocates for gun violence prevention in his southern Minnesota community, where gun ownership is common. Brock and her parents encourage families to talk about safety issues around mental health and guns.
“It can be hard to start those conversations,” but it’s important to talk with relatives, she says. Brock has learned that even experienced hunters and longtime gun owners may need to change their practices.
“That’s changing the culture,” she says. “There’s not a law that’s going to prevent it (suicide) from happening. You just can’t predict when or if the person you care about is going to use that tool for violence against himself or someone else.”
“People want to tell their stories to save lives,” says Marit Brock, and it can be powerful to hear real stories that illustrate the need for gun sense. She notes that when someone dies in a violent way, it’s different from other kinds of deaths, and these survivors have different needs.
In addition to advocacy, Moms Demand Action now provides support and resources to survivors left behind after suicide or gun violence. Brock, who is a suicide survivor herself, said the program provides opportunities for survivors to connect with and learn from one another and to share their message with legislators and the public.
Moms Demand Action’s educational campaign, Be SMART for kids, calls for safe, responsible gun behaviors – securing weapons and ammunition, especially – and respectfully talking about guns and gun safety.
The Minnesota chapter offers training opportunities for parents (and others) to learn and practice ways to ask about potential dangers, including unsecured weapons, where their children play. Brock, who has two children, knows how difficult it can be to bring up gun safety. For more about Be SMART for kids see page 38.
The Mother’s Dream Quilt Project provides support around loss from gun violence. Survivors create and sew together quilt squares memorializing their loved ones. The result is a quilt filled with stories and emotion.