Virginia Tech student and shooting victim, Lily Habtu, left, is comforted by Abby Spangler, of Protesteasyguns.com, after her testimony before the Virginia State Crime Commission at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. (Steve Helber/AP)

GUN CONTROL

The Mom Who’s Taking On the NRA Over Gun Control

When the Senate holds hearings on gun control today, Abby Spangler will be there, leading her volunteer troops in support of restrictions. She talks to Lauren Ashburn about the mission that became her life.

After picking up the kids from school, making dinner and driving her 8-year-old to hockey practice, Amanda Spangler fires off this note on her iPhone to hundreds of friends:

“ALERT ALERT ALERT: THE NRA IS TRYING TO KEEP US OUT OF THE U.S. SENATE HEARING ROOM TOMORROW—EVERYONE WHO IS GOING PLEASE GET THERE EARLIER!!!!! PLEASE READ NRA'S ALERT BELOW AND OUR NEW ACTION PLAN.”

It is the night before Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control, and the Alexandria, Va., mother of two is a whirlwind of frenzied activity. She is singlehandedly taking on the most powerful lobby in Washington—with a little help from her friends.

Despite her lack of previous political involvement, she has picked one heck of a target.

“I wanted to fight the NRA by mobilizing people,” the 48-year-old Virginian told me. “When we get background checks for all gun sales in America, that’s when I’ll feel successful.”

Her mission came to her five years ago, while she was sitting with a group of mothers and children in a sandbox talking about the recent Virginia Tech massacre. She remembers thinking: here I am complaining about changing diapers when 32 mothers don’t have children any more.

Diana Reynolds, a fellow preschool parent also sitting in the sand, gave her the spark she needed: “You can do something about this, Abby.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg credits Abby Spangler with sparking his interest in gun control.

Six days later, the Columbia University grad with a Ph.D. in political science—whose dissertation tracked social-movement responses to AIDS, breast cancer, and prostate cancer—staged her first “lie-in.” She found 32 volunteers, matching the number of people killed at Virginia Tech, and they lay down for three minutes—the time it takes for someone to come into a school and start shooting.

It wasn’t long before the part-time cellist was playing a different tune than that of stay-at-home mother.

Spangler has since founded two groups: Protest Easy Guns, and Campaign to Close the Gun Show Loophole, and organized 125 lie-ins in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a major crusader on the issue, credits Spangler with sparking his interest in gun control. “He told me before I introduced him at a press conference, ‘Your protests made me see the problem with the lack of background checks at gun shows.’”

The movement has consumed Spangler’s life—pushing her to work through kids’ activities and straight through her birthday. “It’s a daily fight for me,” she said, noting that sometimes it's a fight with technology: “I was on my MacBook Air at the ice rink—hooked up to the Internet through the hot spot on my iPhone. Then the computer went dead and I had to send rest of my emails out through my iPhone.”

Spangler doesn’t need to work; she is president of a family-run foundation with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, with 100 percent of that money going to charities. She relies entirely on the volunteer efforts of graphic artists and others who help her spread her "anti people-killing" guns message.

While Spangler’s motto is “never give up,” she doesn’t expect everyone to embrace the same level of commitment: “Americans need to express outrage and not sit on their hands and do nothing.” She believes that if every person can make one phone call or send one email to their representatives, members of Congress will be forced to "get off their butts ... It’s disgusting that our nation has not taken action.”

Spangler is calling the Senate hearing “the fight of our lives”—a fight between NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s husband, Mark Kelly. She has urged her followers to fill the 300-person hearing room “with our troops … before they fill it with theirs.”

Most of the NRA’s rank and file support background checks, Spangler insists. It's the top officials she despises. “The NRA leadership is responsible for the massive loss of human life.”

For her efforts, Spangler receives a torrent of hate mail and death threats. After her first lie-in, this message was one of many that appeared on her Facebook page:
“Wow!!!! You Women really showed them. You laid in front of a building! Yep, you are changing the world. ROTFLMAO!! The founding fathers would look upon these women and what they are wanting to accomplish with disgust.”

And there was this one on her YouTube page from "standswpistols": "dumb ass sluts , thats all they really know how to do is lay on there [sic] backs =)"

Little wonder that Spangler now keeps her Facebook page private. “It’s like Hogan’s Heroes,” she says, referring to the 1970s sitcom set in a Nazi POW camp. “We’re underground on Facebook, plotting our attacks.”

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