Sen. Robert Menendez, center, speaks at a press conference in Montclair on Wednesday. The conference urged the U.S. Senate to pass a bill banning high-capacity gun magazines for sale, which has beed stalled in the senate since 2017. Also pictured, L-R, are Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Essex County Freeholder Britnee Timberlake, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Freeholder President Brendan Gill. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The council chambers at the Montclair Township municipal building were a sea of bright red Moms Demand Action T-shirts Wednesday morning.

“Say ‘Moms!’” someone shouted as the group posed for photos with Rep. Mikie Sherrill, just prior to a press conference on Sept. 4, held by Sen. Robert Menendez.

Wednesday’s press conference was held to urge the U.S. Senate to pass a gun control measures known as the Keep Americans Safe Act and universal background checks on all gun purchases.

The Keep Americans Safe Act, introduced following a shooting at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas in 2017, would ban magazines containing more than 10 rounds of ammunition from being sold to civilian gun owners.

Staff for the senator’s office said Montclair was chosen as a venue because of the community being very engaged with issues related to gun safety.

Mayor Robert Jackson, Sherrill, Freeholder President Brendan Gill, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura were present. In addition to Moms Demand Action, members of BlueWave NJ and the Newark Community Street Team were present.

Wednesday’s conference occurred three days after a serial shooting in Odessa, Texas, where seven people were killed by one gunman. It was the latest in a string of shootings in late July and August, including in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California killing 41 in total. All the shooters obtained the weapons and the ammunition legally. In the case of the Odessa shooting, the gunman was prohibited from purchasing a gun but bought it through a private gun owner.

Next to the podium, a map showed the locations of shootings involving weapons with high-capacity magazines that have occurred in the United States dating back the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

In his introductory remarks, Jackson remarked that Wednesday’s event shouldn’t have happened. “More than 50 years ago now, Senator [Robert F.] Kennedy referred to the ‘mindless violence’ in America,” Jackson said. “How sad that these many years later, we’re still talking about this issue.”

The act isn’t about the Second Amendment right to own a firearm, Menendez said, it’s about how much military-grade firepower is available to civilians.

“In a mass shooting, every second counts, even when law enforcement is incredibly fast,” he said, adding that in the recent mass shootings, survivors were able to escape when the shooter had to stop to reload.

Menendez blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for keeping the legislation from coming to a vote in the Senate.

McConnell has received $1 million in contributions from the NRA, Menendez said. “The only thing I’ve gotten from the NRA is a lifetime F, which I’m proud of,” Menendez said to applause.

Sherrill said her children and others around the district would be going back to school the next day, Sept. 5. “But they should be focusing on math and social studies. They should be focusing on recess. Not on where to hide from a shooter,” she said.

Sheriff Fontoura said that frustration is building “in all of us. So let’s get this done ASAP.

“I tell you, folks, it’s getting late. It’s very late,” he said.

Jaime Bedrin, of Moms Demand Action, said Montclair is not immune to gun violence recalling the 1995 shooting at a Watchung Plaza post office, last year’s shooting death of Angela Bledsoe, and the shooting death of Monica Paul at the Geyer Family YMCA in 2008.

In the Dayton shooting, she said, while police were subduing the shooter, the shooter was still able to fire off more rounds and kill and injure others.

“Thirty seconds to kill nine people and shatter so many lives,” she said.

“The idea in Judaism is that if you save one life, just one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world,” Bedrin said.

Willie Walker, a Montclair resident and a member of BlueWaveNJ, said that New Jersey may have strong, but neighboring states don’t. “Why do you need an AK-15 to go shoot a deer, or hunt a rabbit? You don’t.”

Lisa Yakomin, family friend of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the students killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Florida in 2018, campaigned for the passage of Alyssa’s Law, which requires schools in New Jersey to have silent panic alarms installed. The law was named for Alyssa, a former Woodcliff Lake resident.

Yakomin’s daughter Cathy, a sophomore at Villanova University, and her classmates had a scare on Sunday when the campus went into lockdown over an active shooter alert. No shooter was on campus, but her daughter FaceTimed her from where she was hiding in her dorm room with the door barricaded. “She still lived that fear. It’s real, the fear of a shooting,” Yakomin said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated Britnee Timberlake’s title. She is a former Essex County Freeholder and current Assembly member.