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Abby Spangler wrangles the gun laws

Posted on Jan 12,2009
Filed Under Local Leaders , Community,
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By Sarah Mills
The heat was on.  


Abby Spangler was delivering the last speech to a crowd of 100 people at a rally against gun violence on a hot day in August at a District Heights gun store. The rally was met with counter protesters, who oppose stricter gun laws.   

In the middle of her speech she decided to announce an impromptu “lie-in,”  a solemn affair in which her movement organizes 32 people to quietly lay down to represent the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech massacre.  She did not know anyone else there.  She silently lay down on the pavement and prayed others were brave enough to lie down with her.  

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) lay down with her.  Then, a minister.  Then, other members of the assembled crowd.  The counter-protesters met the silent and supine group using loud megaphones.  Soon, the minister starting singing, “We Shall Overcome.”  The group on the ground held hands, raised them in the air and joined in singing.

Abigail Spangler, Ph.D, a wife and mother of two in Old Town, is not short on bravery.  A gentle, willowy, blonde cellist, Spangler knew nothing about gun control when she first began Protest Easy Guns two days after the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

“I thought something had to be done,” said Spangler, 42. “I was outraged that these students and professors were taken away from loved ones by a guy who bought a gun in a matter of minutes.”

Four days after the shootings, Spangler had emailed her friends to organize 32 people to lie down in front of Alexandria’s City Hall for three minutes, the amount of time it took Cho Seung-Hui of Centreville to buy a gun.  Over a matter of months, what Spangler began that day in Old Town has now grown into a national movement that can claim the participation of over 1,000 people.  

Converging on Richmond

Now Spangler  is organizing to converge on the State Capitol in Richmond next week to coincide with the special legislative session. The buses will originate in Alexandria, Norfolk, Charlottesville and Blacksburg and transport activists to Richmond to lobby for stricter gun laws.  

One bus will be led from Blacksburg by Omar Samaha, a 24-year-old Virginia Tech grad whose sister Reema Samaha was an 18-year-old Virginia Tech freshman gunned down during the shooting rampage. Their sister, Randa, a nursing student at the University of Virginia, will lead another bus from Charlottesville.

“It is so courageous that they have emerged from their grief to lobby legislators improve gun laws,” said  Spangler of the injured victims and victims’ families who are lending their support.   

“Abby has done this all over the country,” says Omar Samaha.  “I admire her for what she’s done.  We need more people like her.  She wasn’t even directly involved and she took it to heart and started, what, at the time, we couldn’t start.  We were still mourning and Abby started taking charge.”

When Samaha travels to Richmond next week he hopes to open people’s eyes to what he sees are inadequacies in gun laws that they might not know about.

“I want people to know that I’m not doing this for myself.  I feel as though I’ve already lost everything.  I’m doing this because they don’t want to experience what I have.  I feel like change needs to happen or else this is going to happen again.”

Believing that many gun control supporters would like to prevent anguish like that experienced by the Samaha family, but don’t know what to do, Spangler  employs  “viral   marketing “  to reach and inform people who want to get involved.

Protesting easy guns

In the main, Protest Easy Guns relies on the spread of word from friend to friend.  After the first protest in Alexandria, Spangler told two friends who decided to lead a similar protest in Bethesda.  A participant in the Bethesda protest decided to conduct a lie-in located in Falls Church.  Within a month, Spangler had organized a lie-in at the Strawberry Fields area of New York’s Central Park, which included shaking hands with Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York (I).

“Mental health combined with easy access to guns is a deadly combination.  They may be feeling bad today, but tomorrow they may be feeling better,”  Spangler said.

Omar Samaha echoes the unease. “Anyone can be involved in the next one.  It’s still possible.”

Just as one small bullet can permanently alter many lives, so can one small protest that began at Alexandria City Hall become a national movement.

A woman who otherwise performs as a cellist in the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic  is now chastised by her husband for working investment banker hours from her home in Old Town to prevent the next mass shooting incident.  Spangler said that’s what it takes to get the movement to lift off nationwide.  

Spangler’s next project is coordinating a simultaneous multi-city, nationwide protest to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007.  



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