Gun-control activist launches run for Congress from new Montco district

Cease Fire PA Executive Director Shira Goodman is running for a Congressional seat representing Montgomery County.

Cease Fire PA Executive Director Shira Goodman is running for a Congressional seat representing Montgomery County. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Vote them out!”

From Florida to Washington, D.C., that rallying cry has grown louder every day since last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School near Miami left 17 students and teachers dead.

Shira Goodman is frustrated with lawmakers who resist calls for gun control even as mass shootings mount. As executive director of CeaseFire PA, Goodman spends her days lobbying legislators for tougher gun laws — in Pennsylvania and nationally — and otherwise working to reduce gun violence.

Now, rather than relying on voters to boot out pro-gun politicians, Goodman wants in. She announced this week that she’ll run for office in Montgomery County’s newly created 4th Congressional District.

A leap from lobbyist to lawmaker, she figures, might be the key to change.

“I remember vividly where I was for Columbine, long before I started in this (gun-control) movement. It’s been almost 20 years, and our kids are still being shot in schools,” said Dresher resident Goodman, 47, who has two sons in high school. “Washington has failed us on this. They have failed to act.”

And as an activist, Goodman said, “If you are frustrated that your stuff is getting blocked, you’re like: ‘I’m gonna break that blockage.’ ”

Goodman is not the first gun-control advocate to try to change laws from the inside rather than outside. For some, the push into politics comes from painful personal experience.

Lucia McBath, a mother from Georgia, became a nationally known voice calling for tougher gun restrictions after a man shot into a car full of teenagers at a gas station in 2012, killing her 17-year-old son, in a dispute over their loud music. She’s now running for a seat in Georgia’s House of Representatives.

In November, voters elected former TV anchor Chris Hurst to Virginia’s House of Delegates, two years after a gunman killed his girlfriend, reporter Alison Parker, and her cameraman Adam Ward during a live broadcast.

And Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America encourages its supporters to run for office. The group formed in 2012 after Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders, the principal, and five teachers at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

One gun-violence educator predicted the slaughter in Parkland, Florida — the deadliest high school shooting in America — and the student marches and walkouts it sparked might prove to be a tipping point for those looking to oust gun-rights lawmakers, whether that’s citizens voting them out of office or activists deciding to challenge them for their seats.

“It’s time for us to enact more reasonable gun legislation, to look at issues like universal background checks, to look at mental health issues, to look at the possibility of reducing magazine capacity, all of these things that seem to contribute to mass shootings,” said Scott Charles, a gun violence educator and trauma outreach coordinator at Temple University Hospital.

“And if we have lawmakers that are unwilling to consider that, despite the fact that we’re losing so many young lives, then it’s time to make change. Either lawmakers are going to have to respond now, or they’re probably going to find themselves out of office in a very short time.”

‘Timing seemed perfect’

Goodman is a progressive Democrat who first began pondering public service when President Donald Trump took office. Her ambition to run intensified as she grew more disgusted with his administration’s conservative policies and proclamations.

Then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday issued a ruling in the state’s high-stakes gerrymandering case, imposing a new congressional map that created a new district uniting most of Montgomery County — which had been fractured among five districts under the old map — into one congressional district.

That persuaded Goodman to go for it.

“The timing seemed perfect to serve in a different way,” she said.

Goodman, an attorney who also spent years lobbying for changes in the criminal justice system with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, has led CeaseFire PA since 2012. This will be her first run for public office, “besides sixth-grade class president,” she laughed.

If elected, she said she’ll continue pushing for better gun laws, specifically closing background-check loopholes; restricting access to assault-style rifles, automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines; and increasing funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (to improve enforcement and investigations) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (to research guns’ impact on public health).

But she says she’s no one-issue candidate, listing abortion rights and criminal justice reform as other priorities.

At least two other candidates have announced they’ll also run in the 4th District. Mary Jo Daley and Madeleine Dean, two Democratic state representatives who now represent parts of Montgomery County, also want the seat. Dean withdrew from the lieutenant governor’s race to run in the 4th. Both also list gun control as campaign priorities.

The filing period for Congress in Pennsylvania runs from Feb. 27 through March 20.

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