The Mom Behind a Movement

Spurred by the shooting rampage last year at Virginia Tech and other high-profile incidents of gun violence, Abby Spangler of Old Town launched an effort called Protest Easy Guns.
Spurred by the shooting rampage last year at Virginia Tech and other high-profile incidents of gun violence, Abby Spangler of Old Town launched an effort called Protest Easy Guns. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 3, 2008

Old Town Alexandria's Abby Spangler didn't set out to start a national movement for tighter gun controls.

But she took note when two students shot their classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado. She watched moms keep their kids inside when the D.C. snipers terrorized the Washington region. Then five Amish girls were shot in their Pennsylvania schoolhouse. Finally, on the morning of April 16, 2007, when Seung Hui Cho opened fire at Virginia Tech, killing 32 students and teachers before killing himself, Spangler decided she couldn't stand back anymore.

"I'd been thinking, 'Is this what we've come to in America?' " she said. "But when Virginia Tech happened, I said, 'I've had enough.' Then when I found out the Virginia Tech shooter got his gun in a matter of minutes, I was outraged. I decided that someone had to speak out and say this is unacceptable. We're not just going to light candles to mourn the victims. We're going to protest for change."

Within a week, Spangler, 43, had been transformed from a stay-at-home mother of two, ages 4 and 7, and part-time cellist to the leader of a movement, Protest Easy Guns. It has a Web site and YouTube postings. Followers have organized "lie-ins" across the country, including 70 on April 16, the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting.

Spangler has testified in Richmond, calling for background checks on all gun sales at gun shows. (The proposal died, despite backing by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.) She is lobbying members of Congress on the issue. She has been joined at her lie-ins by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, police officers, Vietnam War veterans, college students, teenagers, grandmothers, Virginia Tech survivors, victims' family members and Americans of all political persuasions.

At a lie-in -- which she first called a "die-in" -- 32 protesters dressed from head to toe in black, representing Cho's victims, lie on the ground in silence for three minutes, the amount of time it took Cho to kill most of them.

"I knew nothing about gun laws and gun control before this happened. Zero," she said. Now, she is a fountain of statistics, data and arguments and counter-arguments on all facets of gun control. Now, she says things such as, "There is a continuing calamity of Titanic proportions, and we Americans need to right the ship" and "What's the point of us teaching our little Johnnies and Janes to be good people and allow them to walk in the streets with criminals who have easy access to guns? We might as well be throwing them into a tank of sharks."

Spangler lives in Old Town in a brick house built in 1840. In a corner of her living room sits a music stand with Bach's Six Suites and her cello.

"We played Mahler and Puccini last night," she said of a performance with the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra. Brightly colored pool toys are scattered around the patio, and children's toys, games, puzzles, firetrucks, scooters, fish tanks and books dot the kitchen and family room.

But it is the green room with the crystal chandelier that once served as the dining room that has become the nerve center of her efforts.

The table is stacked with newspaper clippings, studies on gun violence, position papers, bags of orange and maroon ribbons, and red Protest Easy Guns posters. Triangular mailing boxes are stacked in a corner. They are the key to the movement's easy spread across the country, she said. Each is a Protest in a Box. Spangler fills each one with everything a local lie-in leader needs to stage a protest. When it is over, Spangler asks only that the box be passed to someone else.

"I wanted it to be easy," she said. "I wanted to show that if even a diaper-changing mom like myself could lead one, anyone could. We all have busy lives. It's hard to get involved, because we don't know if it will make a difference. So a Protest in a Box, with a step-by-step guide and copies of the original letter to send to friends, makes it easy."

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