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.
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.
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.”
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.
another very public incident of gun violence that drew Ringler
out of her self-imposed exile.
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.”
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 she started her blog, Ringler was quickly reminded how
much opposition she faces in supporting ways of limiting gun
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.”
has not backed off this time.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
things to change so bad,” said Banks. “He still had hope.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
blog can be found at blogs.timesunion.com/underfire.