ITHACA, N.Y. — On May 13, 1988, Claudia Brenner embarked on a camping trip to the Appalachian Trail with her girlfriend.
While hiking that day, the two crossed paths with Stephen Carr, a wanted man from Florida, accused of robbing and stabbing an elderly woman, according to a 1999 article from The Morning Call. The two — Brenner, then 31, and her girlfriend, Rebecca Wight, then 28 — later set up camp at a national forest in Pennsylvania, believing they were alone. They made dinner, chatted, and kissed.
The man, Brenner would later find out, stalked the two and hid about eighty feet away from the couple’s camp site, targeting them because he identified them as lesbians, according to Brenner in that 1999 report. He shot a .22 caliber rifle eight times at the couple.
“I was shot, and I was hit five times, and my girlfriend died in the attack,” Brenner told the Ithaca Voice outside of Rep. Tom Reed’s (R-NY) office, during a protest which called attention to inaction on gun reform in both the House and Senate.
Brenner, now an architect in Ithaca, stood with about twenty-five other protesters Friday afternoon because she is “enraged by the fact that there are opportunities to protect our citizens, and because Tom Reed is not on the correct side of this issue.”
“It’s time for him to be replaced by somebody who understands and listens to his constituents,” Brenner added.
“The real enemy”
The issue of gun control has received overwhelming national media attention since a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando earlier this month left 49 people dead and over 50 injured in the largest mass shooting in American history.
House Democrats staged a day-long “sit-in” protest beginning on Wednesday morning which was designed to call attention to the GOP-led Congress’ inaction on gun control measures. Several gun control laws in both chambers of Congress have failed to gain the necessary votes, even as a majority of Americans support stricter gun control laws, according to Politico.
“I firmly support our right to bear arms,” Reed said in response to a statement request from the Ithaca Voice. “It is only fair that our families maintain their Constitutionally guaranteed rights. I am standing with our families and protecting their rights.”
“We need to combat the real enemy here which is ISIS. We also need to better address our mental health system through legislation like Dr. Tim Murphy’s (R-PA) which I am co-sponsoring,” said Reed.
“DC John Plumb [Reed’s Democratic challenger for his congressional seat], Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi have used every excuse to take away our rights, but they’re failing to create real solutions. It is wrong that liberal extremists are threatening to take away these rights without due process,” added Amy Hasenberg, his campaign’s spokesperson.
Jonathon Cummings, the protest’s organizer, spearheaded the effort in order to call attention to Rep. Reed’s NRA ties. “The issue with Tom Reed is that he is getting money from the NRA, so that sways what he should be thinking,” he said. “I personally don’t like that.”
“What this protest seeks to demonstrate is that ‘we’re you’re constituents; we have a different opinion; please listen to us.’ He’s our elected representative,” Cummings added.
Rep. Reed, in addition to his ‘A’ rating from the NRA, has received endorsements this campaign cycle from both the National Rifle Association and from S.C.O.P.E. NY, a New York-based gun rights organization. According to the Washington Post, Rep. Reed has received more donations from the NRA than any other sitting New York congressperson.
“For the many people that have taken this situation and tried to make this an issue about gun control, I say you’re fundamentally then going down a path to change the constitutionally based freedoms that have made America great. Where does that lead us? I think we should focus on the enemy, not changing our way of life,” said Reed in a conference call with reporters earlier this month.
“This isn’t about gun control, this is about taking on the threat that is represented in the movement that is based on a perversion of the Quran that is being utilized to carry out an extreme, radical-islamic terror-based activity,” he added.
Ithaca officials join protest
State- and local-level lawmakers joined protesters to call on Rep. Reed and the Republicans to enact gun control legislation.
“The federal government needs to act,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca), who joined the protesters. “I agree with the people of my Assembly district that [Rep. Reed] needs to step up and pass sensible gun restrictions,” like background checks and a ban on people listed on the terror watch list from purchasing guns, Lifton added.
Dozens of vehicles passed by the protest, staged on East State Street a block from the Commons, either honking in support or yelling at protesters. “Hell yeah!” one passerby yelled to the protesters, who were holding pro-gun-control signs; “Buy more guns! Buy more guns!” another yelled while driving by.
Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson also joined protesters in support of their message. “When it comes to people on the no-fly list being able to buy guns, [Tom Reed] thinks they should be able to buy guns,” Robertson said. “Apparently Muslims are terrorists, because that’s what [Reed-endorsed Trump] is saying, but it’s okay that they have guns?”
“That makes absolutely no sense,” Robertson concluded. Robertson, a Democrat, challenged Reed for his congressional seat in 2014, losing by about 40,000 votes.
So, what does Robertson think concerned citizens should do to demand congressional action on gun laws?
“Call Tom Reed,” she said. “He’s not likely to listen to them, but he has to hear a lot from us.”