They packed like moms pack — healthy snacks, water, comfortable shoes, tissues in their purses — and wore matching red shirts.
They got babysitters, took the day off from work or swapped car pool duties so they could be up at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday for the long drive to Richmond, where the state legislature was finally — finally — going to debate Virginia’s lax gun laws.
About three dozen women (and one man) from the Hampton Roads and Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America were ready to be heard. Ready for a fight.
Because just about all of them knew someone who was in Virginia Beach that day, when a gunman wielding a weapon equipped with a silencer and an extended magazine killed 12 people at the city’s municipal center.
A few days after that horrific shooting in May, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called for a special session on gun control measures. The women, who have been pressing for this for years, were thrilled at this first sign of progress in a state that has long done zip on this.
It has been 12 years since the Virginia Tech massacre — the worst mass shooting on a campus in American history — and Virginia had done squat.
Its indifference bleeds, literally, across state lines.
Guns bought in Virginia are the “key driver” of gun violence in the nation’s capital, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a letter she sent to her neighbor before the special legislative session.
The women on the bus are familiar with the toll of gun violence.
Allison Kaye waited an agonizing 14 minutes for a text from her husband — “I’m OK” — when the shooting in Virginia Beach started.
One woman was in the building that day. Her friends can see the change in her and the way she carries herself, they said.
Another lost a loved one in a neighborhood shooting years ago.
“I don’t know how elected officials hear these stories and do nothing,” said Sibel Galindez, one of the mothers who helped organize the bus trip.
They despise the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” This group’s mantra is “votes and laws.”
“On the bus that morning,” Galindez said, “we were preparing, going through each law, educating ourselves on the dialogues we would have.”
“Red flag laws. Assault weapons ban. Magazine ban. Universal background checks. This is what we were going to talk about.”
The mood was electric. “We had hope in our hearts,” Galindez said.
When they got to Richmond, some of the moms new to the movement took a quick, sharp breath. Facing them was a phalanx of pro-gun protesters.
Guns on their hips, long guns strapped to their backs, they squared off with the moms. Some of the protesters held assault rifles as if they were guards at a cartel compound.
They were dressed in military cargo pants and camouflage; some wore tactical vests, armored vests, mirrored aviator shades.
Some of them confronted the moms. One of them pushed his way into a crowd surrounding a survivor of gun violence as she gave an interview to a local news station, his long gun knocking into others.
One of them filmed the moms as they got off the bus.
“These are the leftists and socialists who are coming for our guns,” said the man, as he and others filmed the line of moms in comfort sandals, canvas totes and capri pants. “We will protect you from them.”
Kendall Jamison, a Virginia native and nurse who came to Richmond for the special session, rolled her eyes.
“Hey, young men. We are not after your guns. You won’t have to work hard protecting anyone from this almost-72-year-old,” she said. “But I would like to return to the ‘good old days,’ when assault weapons were only found in the military.”
The moms met with their legislators, listened to speakers on the Capitol grounds and said they believed there was a good chance some of the bills put forward would be heard.
Like, maybe it would become a requirement that a gun owner report a lost or stolen gun. Maybe a family member who knows someone is in crisis can get help securing the guns temporarily. Maybe buying a gun will be a little harder than buying cough syrup.
But then, 90 minutes after the special session began, their smartphones started buzzing with alerts. By then, they were already back on the bus, taking a break from the July heat.
“What? It’s over?” Galindez said. “People started checking the news on their phones and that’s how we learned. It was over before it even began.”
A mere 90 minutes into what was supposed to be a monster session on curbing gun violence, political backroom deals proved it was all theater.
The Republican majority had been planning the adjournment stunt for at least a week, as their Democratic counterparts were preparing their arguments, as the mothers arranged for babysitters and collected donations for the bus to Richmond.
The Republican legislators knew they were going to shut it down before even considering any of it.
“It was heartbreaking. It was infuriating,” Galindez said. “How dare they. How dare they not do their jobs and at least dialogue.”
The moms were heartbroken, quiet and dumbstruck as the bus pulled out of Richmond.
It was another one of those times when they felt invisible.
They began to seethe. And rage.
Before they were even halfway back to Virginia Beach, they were in battle mode again.
“What we realized is that these guys don’t want to do their jobs,” she said. “So fine. No more jobs for them.”
Right there, on the bus, they began planning: more tables, sign-up stations, meetups and fundraisers. Text and tag friends. Post photos from the day. Get it on our calendar. They would show up — the very next day — to a fundraising event for a candidate willing to listen to them.
They want revenge. And they’re going to fight like mothers to get it.