by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
April 25, 2023
It has become increasingly common to see students protesting gun violence as school shootings rise, but at a rally for tighter gun control in Teaneck Tuesday afternoon, the youngest person was 86 years old.
Armed with walkers and canes, the group of 30 senior citizens ranging in age from mid-80s to 100 held up signs they drew and chanted for stricter gun regulations outside Arbor Terrace Teaneck, an independent senior-living community. The rally was prompted by recent mass shootings and stories of children being shot after knocking on the wrong door.
It was organized by a resident no stranger to sounding the alarm on gun laws — former Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
“We should be relaxing in our recliners … but we can’t!” Weinberg, 88, shouted into a bullhorn. “This is a message to our representatives in Washington — we’re here with walkers, we’re here with our signs, and we want you to hear our voices loud and clear! It’s time for action!”
She voiced outrage over recent shootings nationwide, including Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Missouri boy who was shot after knocking on the door at the wrong address, and Kaylin Gillis, 20, who was shot and killed when she pulled into a driveway to turn around in upstate New York.
In the drizzling rain, the feisty group of grandmas and grandpas chanted, “Ban assault rifles!” and “No guns for teachers!” between speeches from volunteers with Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“This proliferation of guns, along with a lot of very angry people, brought to mind that we can no longer sit aside while the NRA holds our government hostage,” Weinberg said, calling on lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to pass universal background checks and firearm licensing laws. “We know you’re on our side, but that’s not enough.”
The volunteers explained to the seniors what they can do to get involved — stay informed through reputable news sources, call their representatives, and get their families and friends to come to future rallies.
The retired Bergen County senator moved into the retirement community last year and quickly found a group of other activists fed up with lax firearm regulations. She was impressed by the turnout at Tuesday’s rally, and glad people walked away with actions they can take to fight for stricter federal gun laws.
“We all needed some information on what we can do to make this fight a worthwhile endeavor,” she said. “The last couple of weeks were so outrageous with all these stories of poor kids mixing up addresses … there is no reason for it.”
She applauded the state’s strict gun laws — which she played a role in herself during her three-decade tenure in Trenton. The Democrat championed dozens of bills to tighten New Jersey gun laws. But she’s concerned about recently passed state laws being challenged in court.
We should be relaxing in our recliners … but we can’t!
– Former Sen. Loretta Weinberg
A group of Second Amendment activists have sued New Jersey in hopes of overturning a new state law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in December, sharply limiting where gun owners can carry firearms in public. U.S. District Court Judge Renée Bumb has yet to issue her ruling on the case.
As residents walked past her to head inside for coffee, Weinberg reminded them to call their lawmakers to urge them to sign on to bills mandating firearm licensing. You need a license to drive a car, so you should also need one for a gun, she told them.
Although she’s retired, Weinberg still has her hands in New Jersey politics. She has a political action committee and raises money for women candidates. And from her apartment at Arbor Terrace, she organizes grassroots political actions with her fellow residents.
“Just because we’re older and got some canes and walkers, we’re not ready to give up,” she said. “Seeing everyone out here, it gives me a sense of why life is still worth living. There are people who still are involved and want to make the world a little better.”
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Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart’s grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.