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Growing group of moms ‘declares independence’ from gun violence

DENVER — Few groups waiting to march through Park Hill Thursday during the neighborhood’s annual July 4 parade worry about whether they’ll be booed.

But that was the reality for members of “Moms Demand Action” — and activists on either side of Colorado’s sizzling gun control debate — no matter how many cute flag-waving kids were marching with them.

The group of moms, formed just months ago in the aftermath of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting of 20 first-graders, isn’t afraid of being booed at a parade, much less going toe to toe with the National Rifle Association and other pro-Second Amendment organizations.

“After Sandy Hook – that was a 9/11 for many women and moms,” said Shannon Watts, an Indiana mother of five who founded the group, which now has 100,000 members. “And so we are going to be out all the time until something happens in our Congress.

“We need stronger gun laws and policies.”

The parade was rife with symbolic meaning for the group, coming just four days after the state’s new gun control measures — expanded background checks and a ban on magazines of 15 rounds or more — took effect.

Those laws are why Watts came to Denver to march in this small, neighborhood parade.

“Colorado passed some very important laws on July 1,” she said. “And it’s important to come celebrate that and show the support for the governor, because we want those laws to stay in place and we want them in the rest of the country.”

Colorado’s laws are facing a legal challenge from a majority of the state’s sheriffs; and two Democratic lawmakers who supported them are facing recall elections in their districts that were organized by constituents outraged by the gun control laws.

“We haven’t done anything to violate anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who sponsored the new laws and showed up Thursday to march in the parade with the other moms. “We just put in some common sense gun laws to make our communities safer.”

Fields, it goes without saying, latched on to the issue this year based largely on her own experiences as a mom, one whose son was gunned down by gang members he was set to testify against back in 2005.

To many of the mothers she mingled with prior to the parade, she’s a hero.

“We’re here because of her,” said Eileen McCarron, who leads another pro-gun control group, Colorado Ceasefire.

“I couldn’t sleep after Sandy Hook,” said Laura Fronckiewicz, who heads up the Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action. “It just isn’t the world I wanted my kids to grow up in. I didn’t want to send them to a school where they’re in fear of losing their lives. To me, that’s not the American way.”

The group’s other chapters took part in other July 4 parades across the country Thursday; and there, on the website of USA Today, was a banner advertisement from Moms Demand Action.

Before the parade, Watts read her own ‘Declaration of Independence’ aloud.

“Today we declare our independence from a broken system of weak laws that perpetuate an epidemic of gun violence,” she said. “As true patriots, we respect the Constitution, while committing ourselves to promoting public safety. All Americans are entitled to live free from fear of gun violence.”

The hand-made American flags they waved as they walked down 23rd Avenue underscore the grassroots nature of this organization, one that — make no mistake — is focused on having a larger presence in the halls of Congress and a significant impact on next year’s midterm elections.

“What we realize is this is a long-term fight,” Fronckiewicz said. “This is not something that’s going to go away and be resolved in one congressional session. We’ll be here until this is done.

“We feel that strongly about this.”