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Tough mothers



Nationally, Moms Demand Action has more than 100,000 members, with 90 chapters in 40 states. In Oklahoma, organizers say it is gaining more members every day.

“We have been pleasantly surprised by the support we have received,” said Sabine Brown, a founder of the state chapter.

“I think a lot of people have been afraid to speak out on this issue because the opposition can be loud, but we have heard from a lot of people thanking us for standing up for commonsense gun reform. We have certainly had our naysayers, but we feel a voice like Moms Demand Action has been long overdue in Oklahoma.”

Gathering support
Since its inception, Brown and her fellow “Moms” have held several “stroller jams” to bring attention to their cause.

A Moms Demand Action 'stroller jam'

“A stroller jam is when we come in [local congressional offices] with strollers and children, encouraging our legislators to work for stronger gun legislation to protect our children,” Brown said.

On Mother’s Day, the group organized a walk through the Myriad Botanical Gardens to honor victims of gun violence. Each member carried eight paper flowers to symbolize the eight children shot and killed each day in the U.S.

In addition, Moms Demand Action had made its presence known at the state Capitol and attended town hall meetings of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City.

“This is a tough state to get support on this issue, but there have been some positives,” Brown said.

“Although we are disappointed both our senators voted no on the Manchin-Toomey compromise, Sen. Tom Coburn has voiced his support for expanded background checks, and we hope he will continue to work toward that.”

Moms Demand Action at a Mother's Day march

The Manchin-Toomey bill, named for its legislative authors, sought expanded background checks for firearms sales, but died when it failed to muster enough votes to move it forward. A House version remains alive.

“We are encouraging our members to write letters and make calls to their local representatives, letting them know we want a yes vote,” Brown said.

A mother’s grief
While the rhetoric surrounding firearms remains hotly debated, the bottom line for victims’ families comes down to one word: grief.

Nineteen-year-old Bradley Wahnee was a biology major at Oklahoma City University, where he was making straight A’s and dreamed of becoming a radiologist.

Those aspirations ended at around 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2009. Wahnee stopped by the house of a friend. The two were going to the State Fair.  

“My son was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in a place that should have been safe,” said Kari Wahnee, Bradley’s mother.

“Children were playing in the yards up and down the street; one family was having a barbecue to celebrate a birthday. No one could have predicted this peaceful, seemingly safe environment would become the scene of a horrific murder.”

A car pulled up. Two masked gunmen emerged and began firing. Wahnee was hit five times, the first bullet piecing his chest and tearing through his heart.

“My dear, sweet boy had no chance for survival,” said Kari Wahnee.

Investigators concluded the shooting was gang-related and that the assailants’ target had been Wahnee’s friend, who was injured in the gunfire. No one has been prosecuted in the case.

Telling Bradley’s story
Before her son’s death, Kari Wahnee said, she was like many other Americans and paid little attention to the call for gun control.  

Bradley Wahnee
Credit: Mark Hancock

“As people across the nation watch daily news reports, there are endless accounts of yet another murder, a murder/suicide, an innocent child accidentally shot and killed or a mass shooting in a school or mall. Americans have become desensitized to these horrific events,” she said.

“As mothers, we are calling attention to the atrocities that are killing our children and devastating our families. We demand our legislators act on the wishes of their constituents to reform gun laws and make our communities safe places to live.

"Ninety percent of Americans support some degree of change to current gun-control laws, but the pleas of these 90 percent are falling on deaf ears in our state capitols. Our rights as mothers are being attacked by criminals, the gun lobby and our legislators.”

Through the efforts of Brown, Wahnee and others, Moms Demand Action is gaining traction in Oklahoma.

“My son’s death was not in vain,” Kari Wahnee said.

“As his mom, I have told his story countless times, and I will continue telling it as often as necessary to bring about change. Increased awareness and a louder voice are vital to bringing revisions to our current gun control laws. Without reform, our communities will remain under attack and our children will continue to die senseless and needless deaths.”

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