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SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

Victim's grandmother takes on gun violence

Published on -6/26/2013, 9:45 AM

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By MARY SANCHEZ

Tribune Media Services

For an activist, Kathleen Glueck is exceptionally polite. When speaking, she reflexively checks her tone, careful to not monopolize a conversation.

"I'm rattling on too much," she says, unnecessarily apologetic.

After sending me data to make her case, she writes, "Don't want to inundate you with too many reference materials cluttering up your email!"

Bring it on.

America needs to hear more from the likes of this Cape Cod grandmother. And they will. Despite her gentle demeanor, Glueck admits she is "a dog on a bone" about gun violence.

There is a reason why. She has eight grandchildren. One was a fourth-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the day Adam Lanza went on his rampage with assault weapons.

Glueck's grandson survived. But he heard the entire killing spree -- the screams, the gunfire, the pleading -- while hiding inside a cabinet meant for storing musical instruments. Lanza killed himself outside the classroom.

"I can't take away the grief and lifelong challenge for my family," she said. "But I just have to do something."

Grandmothers Against Gun Violence is her something. (Visit the group's website at www.capecodgag.org).

This is how social change occurs. Bit by bit, voice by voice. As Glueck points out, society didn't always think smoking was bad for the lungs. We didn't always use seatbelts or find it necessary to pick up after our dogs in the park. But people do now, reflexively even, without question.

Grandmothers Against Gun Violence began inauspiciously in January, as the creation of another concerned grandmother, Linda Alhart of Cummaquid, Mass. Alhart wrote a letter to her local newspaper after the Newtown murders expressing dismay at the bloodshed.

People began to contact her, echoing her desire to create a safer community and seeking some outlet for their grief. They began having gatherings that quickly outgrew Alhart's living room. You just need a heartbeat to join, they say. The members press the message that they are not against guns, just gun violence.

Now, Grandmothers Against Gun Violence more than 100 members. It has pending 501(c)3 status, meaning contributions will be tax deductible. Alhart is looking into forming chapters in other states. And they've affiliated with Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, along with a few other gun safety groups.

Like the handful of mothers who founded MADD, and the bereaved sister behind the breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the father whose passion helped initiate the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Grandmothers Against Gun Violence are committed and vow to be tenacious.

What they will not be is argumentative, at least not in the conventional manner we've come to expect in the gun control debate.

Grandmothers Against Gun Violence are not itching for a fight with the National Rifle Association. (As it happens, Glueck's father, an avid hunter, was a member.) They are bipartisan and uninterested in belabored dissertations on the Second Amendment.

What Glueck wants most is a shift in the American mindset. She wants the people to begin viewing gun deaths as a public policy issue and get behind measures that will address it.

She's especially concerned with the correlations between mass killings and mental health. She wants treatment destigmatized and made more available.

As a former educational consultant, she wonders how Adam Lanza slipped through the cracks.

Who should have been there, questioning his mother about having so many guns available to a son who clearly had mental health challenges?

She's already a whirlwind of information. She has researched seemingly every angle on the guns issue: state laws, the history of assault weapons, safety features that could be implemented by manufacturers, analyses of school shootings, and data about suicides and accidents by gunfire. She wants experts and victims to be brought together in grassroots meetings to discuss America's gun culture.

"I don't mean to be preachy," she said. "I just wish we could get more people working together and keep it going."

Along with Alhart, she's already connected with some of the leading experts on social change and public policy. The group's members have mined their contacts for resources such as attorneys and lobbyists and politicians.

For many of the group, this effort is as much for the survivors as for the children and teachers who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. So many there, including Glueck's grandson, were not shot, but it is far from accurate to say they weren't wounded.

"Sandy Hook is still a blanket of grief," she told me. "It is the air they breathe down there."

Since time immemorial, people have turned to their elders for guidance, perspective and wisdom. Here is a committed gathering of such people.

"I'm not going to stay silent about this," Glueck said. "Not until the day I die."

Look out. Glueck is 70, and very, very spry.

Mary Sanchez is a columnist for The Kansas City Star. msanchez@kcstar.com

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