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Teamwork: New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Co-Chairs Allison Banks and Robyn Ringler.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Return to Form

Drawn out of exile by recent events, gun-control activist Robyn Ringler looks to reinvigorate the Capital Region chapter of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence

The morning papers reported that President Ronald Reagan was doing well. He had spent a relaxing night in the Washington University Hospital after he had been shot by John Hinckley. Robyn Ringler, a nurse in her early 20s, knew better.

She had been there with the president as his temperature spiked and his skin turned a sickly shade of gray. She had helped massage the excretions out of his lungs and was there as the staff came to realize there was a possibility he might not make it through the night.

“When I first saw the president, he was so pale, so ashen,” said Ringler. “The second night, he spiked a fever, was disoriented and had that gray look about him that I have had a lot of experience with—the look of people who are dying.”

It was that shade of gray that made Ringler realize that the effects of gun violence should not be swept under the carpet, and she decided to become active in anti-gun-violence causes. But in 2001, after years spent working as the local face of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, a written threat to her own life, hand-delivered to her mailbox, made her retreat from the public eye.

It was another very public incident of gun violence that drew Ringler out of her self-imposed exile.

“I was listening to WAMC,” said Ringler, “and they had a report on the Virginia Tech shootings. And then they played a statement by President Bush, and he said he was saddened by the news but still supported the right to bear arms.”

Ringler said she wished Bush could just have comforted the nation, rather than reaffirm his commitment to the gun lobby. Seeing that her daughter was at the time touring campuses, Ringler felt moved to become active again. First she approached Times Union editor Rex Smith and asked him to allow her to blog about gun violence, which had so clearly become a dominant issue in Albany, and her request was granted. Then, through conversations with Dr. Leonard Morgenbesser, Ringler decided to start attending Albany Common Council meetings to support the creation of a gun-violence task force.

As soon as she started her blog, Ringler was quickly reminded how much opposition she faces in supporting ways of limiting gun violence.

“It’s been four months now,” said Ringler. “I started the blog the day after the Virginia Tech shooting, and ever since then I’ve been harassed. I feel verbally abused. I’m called every name that you could imagine. I had to call the police because of a phone threat.”

But Ringler has not backed off this time.

At the first Albany Common Council meeting she attended, Ringler met Allison Banks, who had become active in gun-violence issues after her son, Eleek Williams, was shot to death last year. The two became friends and decided to publicly revive the upstate chapter of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, the two of them serving as co-chairs.

With the Albany Gun Violence Task Force now a reality, the pair plan on applying for positions, as they both feel they have unique qualifications for serving. Banks has her knowledge of Albany, her connection with the community and her personal experience, while Ringler has years of experience in advocacy.

The pair plan to attend community functions and seek opinions directly from the communities in Albany that are most affected by gun violence. Banks said that she knows firsthand that no matter how caught up some of Albany’s youth may be in the cycle of gun violence, they still are looking for a way out.

It hit home for Banks one day when her son Eleek interrupted her speech about what needed to be done to stop the violence to tell her, “Mom, you should run for office.”

“He wanted things to change so bad,” said Banks. “He still had hope.”

Banks said that when she hears from community members that they don’t want to go public for fear of losing their jobs, she tells those people, “You aren’t the one that should be worried about your job. The politicians should be worried about doing theirs. They should be worried about doing the right thing. Clearly, they aren’t doing it.”

And while they both say they have had useful discussions with prominent area politicians about their plans for the upstate chapter of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, they know they are in for a struggle to spotlight attention on their issue.

“Some people may not have loved ones who have been affected by it,” said Banks, “Maybe they live in the suburbs, and maybe they just don’t understand.” But Ringler said that a number of arguments against Albany’s gun-violence task force that she has heard have been based not on misunderstanding but on racist arguments that label residents of areas affected by gun violence as “thugs” or “without morals,” arguments that try to make the issue one that upstanding citizens need not worry about.

“If gun violence was happening in my neighborhood in Saratoga, I believe someone would be doing something about it,” said Ringler. “And there is a definite thread of racism throughout the arguments on my blog. I keep telling stories about people who are being killed—high-school students in Chicago—I referred to them as children. And all the negative comments I got said, ‘How can you call a 17-year-old gangbanger a child?’ I don’t think that is the issue.”

Banks points out, “Anyone can be affected by it, and when one person is shot it’s not just their direct relations who feel it but their friends, coworkers, schools, and churches.”

Some people may not see the connection between Ringler’s time with the wounded President Reagan and her involvement in advocacy; they may not understand why a woman from Saratoga is involved in efforts to halt gun violence in Albany. But Ringler said her motivation comes from that morning she watched the First Lady and her children react to the wounded president. “It was a devastating family time, and being a part of that, having to help support them, made me understand how terrible it is, the devastation that gun violence can bring. Because it seems so preventable. And it’s the same for every family, whether you are the president or you are poverty-stricken in the inner city and your family member is hit.”

Ringler’s blog can be found at

—David King

What a Week

Greasy Palms

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) appears to be in hot water. And this time it is not for the audacity to seek $223 million for a “bridge to nowhere.” This week, agents of the FBI and IRS raided the home of the long-serving senator in connection to an investigation of oil-refining business VECO and oil worker Bill Allen, who has confessed to bribing politicans. Stevens happens to be one of those politicians suspected taking said bribes. According to Forbes magazine, the feds paid particular interest to cases of wine found in Stevens’ cellar.

Reality Star

In a race that lasted only a few weeks, Republican George Amedore Jr. defeated Democrat Edward Kosiur for the seat in New York’s 105th Assembly District. The special election was necessary after incumbent Democrat Paul Tonko stepped down to lead the New York State Energy Research Authority. While Korsiur is an established Schenectady County politician, Amedore recently had gotten a large amount of face time on the Extreme Makeover reality show where his company helped build a house for a season finale.

Location, Location, Location

Excerpts from a speech to be read by Sen. Barrack Obama (D-Ill.) on Wednesday reveal that while Obama wants to stop the war in Iraq, he wouldn’t mind moving it to Pakistan and Afghanistan. “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again,” Obama is scheduled to say. “It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

Boots on the Ground

After nearly five years of unobstructed violence, efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur seem to be making some progress. The United Nations Security Council this week agreed unanimously to send 26,000 peacekeeping troops into the ravaged region of the Sudan, and the Sudanese government assented. That the Sudanese government will now allow U.N. troops onto its soil, after months of resistance, is a drastic shift of policy, one that leaves many observers skeptical.

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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