When Gun Violence Hits Home

By on June 1, 2018

Verona’s Katy McClure (center) with Charlene Hoverter (l) and Tiffany Starr (r), all Everytown for Gun Safety Survivor Fellows.

In late May 2006, Katy McClure was getting ready to head south to see her sister receive a master’s degree in social work. Instead, the Verona resident found herself frantically packing to rush to her sister’s side in a hospital trauma ward after Jenny Luty was shot in the head by her husband.

Luty survived, but with a profoundly altered life. McClure was transformed, too: She now dedicates much of her time to ending the epidemic of gun violence in America. In April, she was one of 37 people chosen by Everytown for Gun Safety for its four-day Survivor Fellows training program in Washington, D.C. In May, she was in Trenton addressing the state Senate’s budget committee about the financial impact of gun violence. With National Gun Violence Awareness Day set for tomorrow, June 2, she wants Verona to hear her story, too.

“I was so outraged,” McClure recalls about learning of her sister’s shooting. “How do you buy a gun at 11 o’clock in the morning and shoot your wife in the afternoon?”

Twelve years ago, there was little for McClure to do with her outrage except focus on her sister’s recovery. Though there had been ample gun violence before her sister’s shooting and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, there had been no grassroots, community-led effort to stop it until the murder of 27 students and teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded one day after Sandy Hook, and it is now part of Everytown for Gun Safety. Both stand alongside groups like Giffords, formed by shooting survivor and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and Never Again MSD, created in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. in February.

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Gun violence is an epidemic in the United States. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 96 Americans are killed every day on average resulting in 13,000 gun homicides a year. Guns are also a factor in self-harm: 62% of all firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides. While Newark’s homicide rate, which is largely gun driven, fell by 25% from 2016 to 2017, some 72 Newarkers were still murdered in those 12 months. And while Luty survived, 50 women are shot to death by their husbands and boyfriends every month.

“I hope that the message reaches victims of domestic violence, not to scare them, but to encourage them to take action sooner,” McClure says. “I hope it encourages people to lock up their guns to prevent accidental shooting.”

The toll is not only in lives lost. According to the Giffords Law Center, gun violence costs the American economy at least $229 billion every year, which includes the $8.6 billion spent on emergency and medical care of shooting victims. Even if your family does not directly face that cost, as McClure’s did, you shoulder the cost every time a victim is uninsured or under-insured. Giffords notes that gun violence costs the general public more than obesity, already recognized as a major public health problem.

McClure’s initial focus on the role of guns in domestic violence has expanded to encompass many other aspects of gun violence. As the wife of a public school teacher and mother of an elementary school child, she has had to grapple with the prospect of gun violence in schools. She was a speaker at the Parkland-inspired March for Our Lives in Westfield in March. McClure joined Moms Demand Action, which advocates for common sense gun safety reforms like universal background checks and extreme risk protective orders. She has spoken with other Verona residents about its “Be Smart” campaign to reduce the number of unsecured firearms, which contribute to accidental shootings and suicides. In her Survivor Fellows training, she befriended Leesa Leatherman Ross, an NRA member who lost her 18-year-old son in an accidental shooting that could have been prevented if the young man’s friend’s loaded gun had had appropriate safety mechanisms. She has lobbied the staff of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) about the GOP’s bill to ease restrictions on gun silencers and talked with Sen. Cory Booker, a proponent of many common-sense gun law reforms.

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“We just want people to be safe. Safe when they go to church, to school, or to a concert,” McClure says. “We want to bring an end to the senseless gun violence.”

“We can find common ground with gun rights activists when we take it back to gun safety,” McClure adds. “We need NRA members to join our cause, to take it back to being about gun safety because that is something we can all agree on.”

Photo courtesy Sarah Spagnola Young.

June 1-3 is Everytown for Gun Safety’s Wear Orange Weekend. You can find its rallies, marches and other events here.

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