Before the soft click of so many rotating wheels embarked on a journey to Washington, D.C., 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.
Four hundred miles later, Team 26 arrived in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 12.
Their reception along the way was generous.
Morristown, N.J., put out flags for the riders. Truck drivers slowed down to express their support. Mayors along the route, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, agreed to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun-control group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, the Tucson, Ariz., shooting victim who is now a gun-control advocate, tweeted encouragement to “keep pedaling.”
But the job of these latest citizen-lobbyists from Newtown is daunting. While they may have stirred public opinion with their ride, Congress is gridlocked on the major gun-control measures under consideration on Capitol Hill — a proposed assault weapons ban and an expansion of FBI background checks to all gun buyers.
“Please put politics aside and get it done,” Team 26 organizer and Newtown resident Monte Frank urged lawmakers.
Before they were met by local representatives in Washington, D.C., a crowd gathered for a send-off rally on Saturday. 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 Mr Frank, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Chris Murphy, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, Congressman Jim Himes, who rode 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 Frank 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 to promote “the immediate need” for gun safety legislation.
Congregation Adath Israel 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, D.C., and we are going to have a rolling rally all the way down.”
The journey took Team 26 to another rally in Ridgefield at Veterans’ Park Elementary School, hosted by Rep Himes and First Selectman Rudy Marconi. Rep Himes and Bethel First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker rode with Team 26 from Newtown to Ridgefield.
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 were accompanied by a Newtown police motorcycle with stops in cities and towns along the way.
When speaking at the rally on Saturday, Mr McDonnell, who rode with Team 26, thanked his fellow riders for letting their voices be heard by riding to Washington.
“On December 14, we lost the love and the light of our family, our daughter Grace” said Mr McDonnell, with this wife beside him. “Since that day I have made a solemn promise that her life will forever be celebrated, her vision of the world as a beautiful and peaceful place forever honored, and her voice forever heard.”
Mr McDonnell said humanity is not defined by history, and, instead, defines it.
“Progress occurs when courageous and compassionate leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better,” said Mr McDonnell.
As Mrs Llodra pointed out during the rally, each member of Team 26 wore a green jacket with the words, “We ride for peace, hope and love,” printed on the back.
“I hope that the other leaders throughout this nation step forward,” Mr McDonnell said after acknowledging the local representatives at the rally, “with the same moral courage and commitment and tackle these great issues that confront us with a determination and discipline worthy of a great nation. That much is owed to our children.”
Mr McDonnell also said he was riding for hope, peace, love, and for Grace.
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.
(Reporting by Ana Radelat with The Connecticut Mirror was used in this story.)