SANTA FE, N.M. — No sooner had my call ended with Albuquerque business leader Robin Brulé than the news broke.
Another school shooting. This one, at North Park Elementary in San Bernardino, Calif., had occurred when a gunman burst into a classroom and fired 10 rounds, killing a special-education teacher and an 8-year-old boy and seriously wounding another student, age 9, before the gunman turned the gun on himself.
It was the 12th school shooting this year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization created after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
It’s possible you didn’t hear much about the North Park shooting. The body count wasn’t high enough to kick the other stories of chaos and calamity off the front page. Big bombs, big Russian intrigue and beautiful chocolate cakes – it’s no wonder the shootings that not that long ago were big news are getting a smaller piece of the public’s attention these days.
Which is one of the reasons I wanted to speak to Brulé, a participant in Everytown for Gun Safety’s Survivor Fellowship Leadership Program held last weekend near Washington, D.C.
How, I wondered, do we keep the issue of gun violence prevention front and center in a time of so many other concerns? How do we keep strengthening gun laws without weakening Second Amendment rights? How do we stop the bloodshed?
“We just have to keep working toward this,” she said. “We need to keep talking about what the data tells us. We need to keep sharing our stories. It’s not easy to share my story, but I know it’s a way to keep moving forward with this issue and to honor my mother in a way I believe she would have wanted.”
Her mother was Ruth Schwed, a 75-year-old retired teacher in Albuquerque who had gone to Surprise, Ariz., to comfort her longtime friend Barbara Leslie, 70, after her husband’s death. On the morning of Feb. 8, 2016, the two women were sipping coffee and reading the newspaper at Leslie’s home when two men slipped in through an open garage door, shot and killed both women, stole their credit cards and made their getaway in Leslie’s car.
“My mom is and was a wonderful human being,” Brulé said. “Three children and eight grandchildren, and this community lost her that day to a senseless and cowardly act of gun violence. It’s unfathomable to this day, painful, and when I think about how there are 94 people who are shot and killed every single day, that there are families feeling this same pain every single day, that is not OK.”
So she started talking. She joined Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s highest-profile gun-control group and the antithetic answer to the National Rifle Association – though Everytown’s members stress that they support keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people while protecting the rights of responsible gun owners.
She became part of Everytown’s Survivor Network, which claims more than 1,000 members from nearly every state who are either survivors of gun violence or who know or are related to someone who was killed by gun violence.
Last weekend, she was one of 40 participants at its third annual fellowship program, which trains, supports and empowers survivors to share their stories publicly in an effort to keep the dialogue going.
“It’s really a way for survivors to get together to learn more about data and statistics on gun violence. It’s putting grief into action,” said Brulé, who among her many accomplishments has headed the Children’s Hospital of New Mexico, the CNM Foundation and the Office of Philanthropic Outreach. She is also the wife of Bernalillo County Commissioner Lonnie Talbert.
She is also a gun owner.
Brulé has already been putting grief into action, advocating during the last session of the Legislature for Senate Bill 48/House Bill 50, which would have required background checks for all gun sales or transfers. A 2017 Research and Polling Inc. poll found that 87 percent of New Mexicans support the additional checks, she told legislators.
“It’s harder to get a driver’s license and some medications here in New Mexico than it is a gun,” she said.
The bills snagged in committee. Another bill – Senate Bill 259, which would have helped keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence offenders – was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
It’s a disappointment, but not a deterrent, Brulé said.
“It’s incremental changes – a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “We cannot allow ourselves to be desensitized. I’m going to work harder by meeting with as many people as I can, lend my voice wherever possible. There are so many challenges.”
But she said there are also so many voices still speaking out above the gunfire. Hers is just one of them.
UpFront is a regular news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.