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Maryland law will prevent other families from experiencing the tragedy ours endured | COMMENTARY

The procession carrying the urn of Capital Gazette journalist John McNamara at his memorial service Tuesday inside Memorial Chapel at the University of Maryland at College Park, Md. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo Calla Kessler
The procession carrying the urn of Capital Gazette journalist John McNamara at his memorial service Tuesday inside Memorial Chapel at the University of Maryland at College Park, Md. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo Calla Kessler (Calla Kessler)

Two and a half years ago, I had to tell my children that their uncle had been shot and killed. Today, I can finally tell them that Maryland now has a law on the books to prevent other families from experiencing the same tragedy.

It was a sunny afternoon on June 28, 2018, when reports of the shooting at the Capitol Gazette newsroom first broke. My husband’s brother, John McNamara, had worked as an editor and sports writer there for more than two decades. For what felt like an eternity, we waited for updates, but the longer we waited, the harder it became to hold on to hope. It wasn’t until late that night that we got a call no one should ever receive: John and four other staff members had been shot and killed.

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My husband was keeping vigil with their widowed mother at the military retirement community where she lives, so I was the one to explain to my kids — just 9 and 11 years old at the time — why they would never see their uncle again. As we learned more information about what led to the shooting, it became clear how gaps in Maryland’s gun laws allowed for John’s shooter, who had a history of harassment, to legally purchase the shotgun he used. When they asked me why our laws would allow a dangerous person to purchase a lethal weapon, I didn’t have an answer.

This month, I was finally able to tell my children that our lawmakers acted to prevent what happened to their uncle from happening again. On February 11, Maryland lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto of lifesaving legislation requiring background checks for rifle and shotgun sales in the state. For the first time in nearly three years, I can tell my children that our elected officials have taken steps to keep families and communities safe from gun violence.

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There’s so much more to say about John McNamara than the awful way he was stolen from us. John was a storyteller who exuded enthusiasm about so many things, but none so much as Maryland sports. John talked about great athletes and memorable plays the way other people describe the best gift they ever received as a child. There are so many things we all miss about him, and I carried them with me when I asked lawmakers to take action.

Just months after the shooting at the Capital Gazette, which is owned by Baltimore Sun Media, I joined other survivors and gun safety advocates at a Moms Demand Action advocacy day in Annapolis, less than 4 miles from where John and his colleagues — Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — were murdered. We called on lawmakers to close the dangerous loophole that allowed private rifle and shotgun sales to go unchecked. Two legislative sessions later, the policy finally received a vote in both chambers.

No one ever said this would be an easy fight. For such a common-sense step to keep Maryland safe, we were met with continued opposition. Legislators ran out the clock on one session to avoid voting on this bill and bounced the bill back and forth between chambers. And when they finally put a bill on the governor’s desk, it was met with a veto. I was heartbroken when the governor rejected the legislation last May after we had worked for years to get a bill through the State House. But just like the comeback stories John would write about in his columns, the losses only made us work harder to win.

After years of advocacy, we’ve finally achieved the change we have worked so hard for, and we won’t miss the opportunity to be grateful for this victory. But while the loophole that made it easy to access deadly firearms like the one used in John’s shooting is closed, there’s more work to be done. There are so many shootings that don’t make the national headlines, and countless loved ones receiving calls like the one I did in 2018.

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The fight to strengthen our gun laws isn’t about any one shooting — it’s about all of them. I’m no longer fighting just for John. I’m fighting for anyone who has had a loved one stolen from them by gun violence. We have proved that change, however long it takes, is possible. We won’t ever forget John or the other lives impacted by the shooting at the Capital Gazette. And we won’t ever stop fighting to prevent needless gun violence in Maryland or across this country.

Jan Donohoe McNamara (jandmcnamara301@gmail.com) is a volunteer with Maryland Moms Demand Action.

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