Before the soft click of so many rotating wheels embarked on a journey to Washington, DC, from Sandy Hook, a large rally took place at Reed Intermediate School Saturday, March 9, to send off the members of Team 26.
The group of 26 cyclists hopes to raise awareness for gun safety legislation - specifically, requiring all gun buyers to pass criminal background checks, instituting a ban of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, making gun trafficking a federal crime, including real penalties for “straw buyers,” and strengthening gun ownership restrictions for people with severe mental illness.
A crowd gathered before the rally started at 8:30 am. First Selectman Pat Llodra asked everyone to use their own specific gifts to help elevate what is known to be right.
“The gifts that these folks are using are their talents on a bicycle,” said Mrs Llodra. “I don’t have that gift, but I sure do appreciate theirs.”
Many spoke during the rally, including resident and Team 26 organizer Monte Frank, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Chris Murphy, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, Congressman Jim Himes, who was set to ride with Team 26 for part of its journey, and Lynn and Chris McDonnell, parents of Grace McDonnell, one of the student victims on 12/14.
As Mr Monte told The Bee recently, following the events of 12/14, “none of us slept.” During one of those nights, he had the idea to organize cyclists to ride from Newtown to Washington, DC, to promote “the immediate need” for gun safety legislation.
Congregation Adath Isreal Rabbi Shaul Praver also spoke during the event, and Newtown Congregational Church Reverend Matt Crebbin led the gathered crowd in a prayer before the cyclists began their journey.
Rabbi Praver said he believes Newtown does not want to be remembered as a town of tragedy, but the town is dealing with it in the best and most creative ways it can. After addressing what the Second Amendment means and his respect for it, Rabbi Praver said, “We just want our society to be safer.”
Mr Frank spoke after Rabbi Praver.
“I’d like to introduce America to the Connecticut effect,” said Mr Frank, referring to his fellow riders, all wearing green and white jackets. “...Not only are we not going away, we are growing stronger.”
Together, he said, the Team 26 will fight to reduce gun violence.
“We respect the Second Amendment, but if we are going to have a serious conversation about it, then the starting point needs to be that the right to bare arms is not unlimited,” said Mr Frank, “that reasonable restrictions are both constitutional and necessary.”
Mr Frank also said America needs to end the epidemic of gun violence.
“We are Team 26,” said Mr Frank. “We are about to embark on a journey from here to Washington, DC, and we are going to have a rolling rally all the way down.
The journey will take Team 26 to another rally in Ridgefield at Veterans’ Park Elementary School, hosted by Representative Himes and First Selectman Rudy Marconi. Rep Himes and Bethel First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker road with Team 26 from Newtown to Ridgefield.
Team 26 plans to arrive in Washington on March 12 at 1 pm, for a press conference at which the Congressional delegation will welcome the riders.
Among the 26 cyclists are professional, top amateur, and masters cyclists from throughout the Northeast. Three members of the riding team are from Newtown, including Mr Frank, Bill Muzzio, and Chris Peck. Two of the riders have children who went to the Sandy Hook School and the team includes parents, teachers, a Newtown police officer and a Vietnam veteran. The team also includes a former US National Team member, Canadian National Team member, Masters National Champion, and State and Regional Champions. Throughout the journey, the riders will be accompanied by a Newtown police motorcycle with stops in cities and towns along the way.
For more information on the rally, the riders, and the four-day Sandy Hook Ride on Washington, check the “Sandy Hook Ride on Washington” Facebook page.
A more indepth look at Saturday’s rally will be in the March 15 print edition of The Bee.