Not a day goes by that Carole Price doesn’t think about her boy John. He’s been gone nearly 15 years but his memory is always right there, she says, in her chest when she wakes up each morning and at night when she lays her head to rest. But far too often it’s tragedy that rustles up the boy’s memory, the kind that spills across newspaper headlines or flickers through the nightly news.
“Every time you turn on the television you see something else,” Price told msnbc.com on Monday. “You try to live and move on, but seeing a lot of what’s been going on lately, it just brings it all back like it happened just yesterday. It’s something that never goes away.”
On a summer day back in 1998 in a quiet Baltimore suburb, Price’s son John, 13, was accidentally shot and killed while playing at a neighbor’s house. The 9-year-old neighbor boy found his father’s 9-mm pistol in a dresser and their child’s play quickly turned deadly.
The tragedy spurred Price and her husband from their devastating emotional pain to a life fighting for tougher gun laws and responsible gun ownership. Price helped push legislation in her home state of Maryland that required trigger locks and firearms-safety courses for all new handgun owners. She was an organizer for the 2001 Million Mom March that drew nearly half-a-million supporters to the National Mall in Washington, and championed programs that educated students and their families against misuse of household guns.
On Tuesday Price will join Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, as his guest at the State of the Union Address. Van Hollen is one of more than a dozen law makers who have invited gun violence victims to the president’s speech.
According to reports more than 20 victims of gun violence will be in attendance, guests of mostly Democratic policy makers including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others who represent communities that have in one way or another been rocked by gun violence.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has invited a guest “directly affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.” And Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the lead sponsor of a bill to ban assault weapons, has invited someone who was injured in gun violence as a young person in Los Angeles. Former representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was gravely wounded in a 2011 shooting at a Tucson supermarket, will join her husband Mark Kelly as the guests of Rep. Ron Barber and Sen. John McCain.
Cleopatra Pendleton, the mother of slain Chicago honor student Hadiya Pendleton, 15, who was shot and killed little more than a week after she marched in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade in Washington, will be a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama during the Tuesday night’s address.
“It’s humbling and an honor,” Carole Price said. “Almost 15 years later, John’s memory still lives on. It says that I must have had enough of an impact to be considered for such an honorable event.”
Van Hollen said that he’d gotten to know Price well during his time as a Maryland State Senator, and called her “a tireless champion for gun safety.”
“We could not have passed the gun safety legislation to reduce the accidental shootings of children in 2000 without her involvement, and she continues to be an important voice in the ongoing debate as we work to keep our children and our community safe from gun violence,” Van Hollen said in a statement. Van Hollen was the floor manager for Maryland’s Responsible Gun Safety Act in 2000, which required that handguns manufactured after 2002 could be sold or transferred only if they had an internal mechanical safety device.
After John’s death Carole Price said she and her family moved out into a rural community in Carroll County, Maryland. There, she said, she found a proudly outspoken gun culture, so much so that local Republican groups would raffle off handguns (on one occasion the same model used in her son’s killing) for political fundraisers.
“There’s shooting every day in Baltimore city, and it happens out in a rural areas too, you don’t hear about it as much but that doesn’t make it any less important,” Price said. “The hemorrhaging of the guns that are so assessable, if we could cut down on how many are out there and ban assault rifles and high-ammunition clips, we could really make a difference.”
If ever there was a time for real change in terms of “common sense” gun legislation, Price said, this is it. “If it could happen at all it could happen now,” Price said. “We have to keep the momentum going. More people now are willing to have this conversation and even consider legislation. People that were not willing to have a conversation 15 years ago are willing to sit down now and listen.”
Meanwhile, the healing over her son’s loss continues all these years later.
“I honor my son’s memory every day,” Price said. “I’ll always just be John’s mom. I’m his mother whether he’s here or not, and I’ll always be his mother.”