Dialogue on Mental Illness and Semi-Automatic Firearms

Plus Statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Rifle Association (NRA)

by Bernadette Verzosa
ANTIGUN A Houston mom is taking on Texas lawmakers in an attempt to reduce the availability of semi-automatic weapons.
“It’s not political. It’s common sense,” says Norri Leder, a mother of two from Bellaire, who is galvanizing parents’ groups to sign petitions, demonstrate, and write letters to legislators.

Along with about two dozen Houston parents and grandparents, she created a makeshift memorial on Memorial Drive, in honor of the first-graders killed by gunfire in their Newtown, Connecticut classrooms. Bouquets of white roses and soft stuffed animals surrounded signs with the names of the murdered school children and the locations of other recent mass shootings in the United States.

“We erected this so Houstonians can express their grief as well as their hopes for positive change,” says Leder. “Everyone is welcome to stop by and leave flowers, a candle, a card.”

Mike Roberson, a father and grandfather who lives in the Heights, says military-style assault weapons need to be taken off the streets. “We need to curb the senseless violence,” he says. “We can not allow children to be killed to protect the second amendment, which is outdated. When the Founding Fathers wrote that, they didn’t have this in mind. This could have happened anywhere. It could have happened at my 8-year-old granddaughter’s school.”

Another Houston dad, Michael Durham, has two daughters and lives with his family near the Texas Medical Center. Durham emphasizes that a discussion on mental health is also needed.

“Something has to be done between the lack of care for the mentally ill and the availability of firearms,” he says. “When they come together there can be tragic consequences.”



Leder picked the Memorial Drive spot strategically. It’s in front of the Houston office of U.S. Senator John Cornyn.
She wrote a letter to Senator Cornyn and hand-delivered it to an aide. In it she pleaded, “As a mother, I am begging you to change your position and move aggressively and swiftly toward outlawing semi-automatic weapons and large magazines and clips.”

In a statement to ParentsPost.com, Texas Press Secretary, Jessica Sandlin says, “Sen. Cornyn like most Americans is grieving with the families of the children and innocent individuals killed in Newtown Friday. While there will be a time for policy discussion, out of respect to those families, now is not the time. He has listed various ways to support the community of Newtown on his website and remains focused on supporting this community in mourning.”

Senator Cornyn’s office provided ParentsPost.com with the following link: http://www.cornyn.senate.gov/public/
Leder has also taken her movement online. She has created a change.org page to collect signatures. CLICK HERE for NORRI LEDER’S PETITION.


Nationwide, there are calls for action from many organizations. On December 19, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) sent a letter to President Barack Obama.

AAP President Thomas K. McInerny wrote, “New federal firearms legislation that bans assault weapon sales and the sales of high capacity magazines, strengthens mandatory waiting periods and background checks for all gun purchases and promotes strict gun safety policies is a necessary first step.”

The AAP also called for improvements to services that support the mental and developmental health of children and families, as well as a national dialogue to reduce children’s detrimental exposure to violence.

President Obama has created a Gun Violence Task Force which is being led by Vice President Joe Biden. Vice President Biden has met with Cabinet members and state law enforcement officers to identify possible solutions. They plan to have recommendations on measures to prevent school shootings sometime in January.


On December 21, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre read a statement on the NRA’s position. He suggested that Congress put a police officer in every single school in the country saying, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

LaPierre said the students in Newtown may have been better protected if officials at Sandy Hook Elementary School had been armed. He also blamed violent video games and movies, the media and gun-free zones in schools. He says schools are a target because they are not protected by armed security the way other institutions are.

The NRA had released a statement about the Connecticut massacre: “The National Rifle Association of America is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.”



Leder had special support at the makeshift memorial from her own parents, Mac and Shirley Katzin. The Katzins have lived in Meyerland since the 1960s and say they have witnessed increasing violence over the decades.
“It’s long overdue. I worked with Child Protective Services for 21 years. I saw a lot of injuries from guns – children and adults,” says Shirley Katzin. “There’s no reason for assault guns that can shoot lots of bullets at a time.”

Mac Katzin adds, “I’m all for guns that are obtained legally for sport and hunting. But maybe we can involve the Sheriff or the Marine Corps to regulate it more closely. Or we need to make it extremely difficult with license fees.”

Leder says her parents inspire her to continue her crusade. “They’re very active. They’re doers. They’re involved,” she says. “They’ve always encouraged speaking up for what you believe in.”

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