“It never gets easier,” Ethel Guttenberg’s voice faltered as she spoke of her granddaughter, Jesse. Jesse and 16 others were murdered at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida this past Valentine’s Day.
Guttenberg’s voice grew stronger as she announced to the annual conference of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in San Jose, “It will get easier when some of these terrible people in Congress get fired.”
Guttenberg, a long time member of NOW, is no stranger to tragedy. Her son, Michael, a New York physician and FDNY first responder on September 11, 2001, died from cancer linked to airborne toxins he was exposed to as he struggled to save lives in the aftermath of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil.
Then, sixteen and a half years later, Guttenberg’s granddaughter died at the scene of a whole different kind of terror attack: The now familiar terrorist attack perpetrated by homegrown mass shooters. And since that day, the victims of the Parkland shooting have refused to fade quietly into the background.
Something happened at Douglas High School that made this shooting different from all the others. Guttenberg told a mesmerized audience that something about the 18th mass shooting of 2018 pulled the victims together and motivated their outreach. Something has made the survivors response different from the shootings in Orlando or Las Vegas. Guttenberg thinks it’s the Stoneman Douglas community. They weren’t little kids like the tiny children slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School and they weren’t virtual strangers like the attendees of a concert or a nightclub. The Stoneman Douglas High School kids knew each other, they were already connected, and Guttenberg surmises that this familiarity empowered them to speak out.
Guttenberg herself can’t stay silent. She doesn’t want any more grandparents to bury their grandchildren because Congress is afraid to act. Guttenberg can’t stay home and stay quiet about her grief. Though she tears up every time she talks about Jesse, she just keeps talking – because she believes, “These murderers need to be stopped.” And when she talks about murderers, she means the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the members of congress whose campaigns the organization finances. Guttenberg told her audience that she doesn’t think much of the shooter: a man she says “wasn’t even old enough to buy a six shooter but could buy an assault rifle.” No, Guttenberg explained, “Truthfully, I don’t give a damn about him. I do blame all the Congressmen who didn’t do anything.”
Guttenberg’s own Republican Congressman in Ohio, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, has taken $7000 from the NRA in his short tenure in the House of Representatives and has yet to grant Jesse’s grandma a meeting so that she can discuss her granddaughter’s murder. While $7000 over three election cycles sets no records for the NRA, Wenstrup’s counterpart in the House of Representatives who speaks for the Cincinnati area where Guttenberg works, Rep. Steve Chabot, has taken $70,950 from the group. The Ohio House delegation has a whopping $243,591 in their combined coffers from the nation’s largest gun lobby. That’s just the House of Representatives from Ohio. It doesn’t include totals for the state’s U.S. Senators, Governor, or State House lawmakers. How’s a grandma supposed to react when all that money pours into the pockets of the elected officials that are supposed to care about her grandchildren?
In Guttenberg’s case, the grandma gets busy.
Not new to activism, a long time member of NOW, Guttenberg’s devoted herself to the causes of reproductive choice, gay rights, and now, Guttenberg says, she’s taking on guns. Long time friend and NOW board member, Beth Corbin, shares Guttenberg’s desire to make the U.S. a safer place to go to school, concerts and movie theaters. Corbin spoke lovingly of Guttenberg’s newest fight and “absolutely supports” her efforts. “It’s particularly poignant that she now has to deal with this gun violence,” Corbin remarked. “The NRA didn’t know who they were tangling with when they allowed Ethel’s granddaughter to get murdered and engaged her in this fight.”
Guttenberg said that she recently visited Jesse’s grave for the first time since the funeral. She told her audience in San Jose that after speaking with her granddaughter about everything that had gone on since her murder, she asked if she was doing okay. Guttenberg said that as she walked away, she heard Jesse’s voice in her heart say, “You go, Grandma!”
Her entire NOW audience applauded in agreement.