Reversing The Ride: Team 26 Planning Main Street Homecoming May 7
WASHINGTON, DC - By the morning of Wednesday, May 3, just under 24 hours before he and the riders of Team 26 depart from Washington, DC, on their way to a welcome reception at Edmond Town Hall on Sunday evening, May 7, Sandy Hook resident Monte Frank was already in the groove.
He joined Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Senator Richard Blumenthal, and former Congresswoman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords at the US Capital calling for America's leaders to take action to make communities safer from gun violence, and reject what an event advance called "the corporate gun lobby's dangerous agenda."
It was the kind of gathering that Mr Frank had grown well accustomed to over the nearly five years since the Sandy HookÃÂ tragedy befell his home town, and he and a hearty group of cyclists decided to make an annual trek from Newtown to Washington in the hope of affecting more common sense gun control legislation.
This year marks a departure from that practice as Mr Frank and his Team 26 reverse the ride and depart from Washington on Thursday, May 4, making a number of stops at gun sense rallies and visits with dignitaries along the route back that has the cyclists scheduled to roll up Main Street to a homecoming rally around 6 pm Sunday.
The reversal intends to make a statement of pessimism, in effect turning Team 26's collective backs on the proliferation of lawmakers who are enabling new legislation that appears poised to create a nationwide concealed carry permit for gun owners.
"Until members of Congress do their jobs and pass laws to make Americans safer, instead of offering thoughts and prayers for victims, we will ride with the Congress at our backs," said Mr Frank, who along with his riders believe that Congress remains complicit in the gun violence that continues to occur in the United States at rates that they believe are unacceptable.
The riders are made up of a core group that has been with the team since 2013, and this year is adding a high school rider from New Jersey, Mr Frank told The Newtown Bee in a preride call from Washington.
"We've also picked up a few representatives from new states, and we're ready to roll," he said.
Leading up to the May 3 gathering with Ms Giffords, Sen Blumenthal noted in a release that "after spending record amounts of money to help elect President Trump, it's become clear that the Washington gun lobby now believes that they've got their best shot at rolling back important gun safety measures and moving their agenda forward."
On Friday, April 28, in Atlanta, Sen Blumenthal said President Trump became the first sitting president to address the National Rifle Association annual meeting in more than 30 years, with President Trump telling the group, "You've come through for me, and I'm going to come through for you."
Comments like those from the president, along with what Mr Frank says is a strong push in Congress to institute a national concealed carry permit, keeps him and his riders inspired to pedal about 70 miles on Thursday, and more than 100 miles each on Friday and Saturday, before the last 111-mile leg of the activist journey winds him back home.
"Unfortunately, I fear that this next piece of legislation concerning gun violence will increase gun violence," he said. "So it's incumbent upon all of us to fight back to be sure this federally mandated concealed carry bill is defeated. It's got over 160 co-sponsors and the NRA is pushing it hard - and we've got to fight back."
Riding To Raise Awareness
Thursday's activities actually kick off in Richmond, Va., where Mr Frank said Team 26 will stand with a state senator who is a strong gun sense advocate before pedaling on to a 10 am kickoff rally at the US Capitol. That event is expected to be attended by Rep Esty, Sen Blumenthal, Senator Chris Murphy, Congressmen John Larson, Jim Himes, Joe Courtney, Mike Thompson, and Congresswomen Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rosa DeLauro.
In his call to The Newtown Bee, Mr Frank said that despite ongoing fights in Washington and in state houses across the country, ultimately Team 26 is riding to honor the 20 first-grade children and six educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School - and all victims of gun violence.
Dedicated to raising awareness of the public health crisis of gun violence, and to support common sense measures to reduce it, Mr Frank, Team 26, and its supporters know that journey will be far from over as they settle into bed back in Newtown Sunday night.
In an advance, the team states that "Congress must act to prevent gun violence by passing common sense measures, including requiring a background check on all gun sales and limiting magazines to ten rounds, and the dangerous efforts to pass federally mandated concealed carry must be defeated."
Mr Frank explained that this legislation (S 446 and HR 38) would allow potentially dangerous individuals to carry loaded, concealed guns in states that otherwise would have laws to prevent them from doing so.
Along their ride, Team 26 will be stopping for events at city halls and universities in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
"A new event this year will be a stop at the Capitol of New Jersey in Trenton to support gun violence prevention advocates in that state," Mr Frank said.
Speakers will include federal and state lawmakers, mayors, activists, family members, and survivors. While applauding their efforts to make communities safer, they also sadly acknowledge that more than 130,000 people have been killed in the United States by gun violence since the Sandy Hook School shooting.
Well wishers and supporters are being asked to begin gathering for the Welcome Home Rally at 5:30 pm, May 7, at Edmond Town Hall ahead of the Team 26 arrival.
Mr Frank said that event will be hosted by First Selectman Pat Llodra, and is expected to include remarks from Sen Blumenthal, Congresswoman Esty, Sandy Hook families including David and Francine Wheeler, Sandy Hook School teachers, gun violence survivors, and other gun violence prevention activists.
Ms Wheeler and fellow Newtown musician Jim Allyn are planning a brief musical performance, the first at a Team 26 rally since the annual rides began in 2013.
Responding to a question about how long Team 26 will go on, Mr Frank responded saying he firmly believes with the climate in Washington these days, Team 26 will be riding again, for at least three more years.
"In light of the politics in Washington that we have, for us to be doing this ride this year clearly indicates that we intend to keep doing this until there is significant change in our gun laws nationally," he said. "So I will do this ride and I'm sure my teammates will be on board. And if I'm unable to do this in the future, I'm sure someone will come to take my place leading the charge.
"This issue is too important, not just for Newtown but for families suffering across the country because of this public health crisis," he added.