One could not help but be affected by the strength, courage, resolve and presence of Great Neck Estates resident Lois Schaffer as she spoke of the tragic death of her daughter, Susan, and her ongoing fight against gun violence during her presentation last Thursday evening at the Dolphin Book Shop in Port Washington.
Schaffer and her husband David’s 48-year-old daughter was shot and killed in December of 2008 when she interrupted a burglary in her St. Louis home by two 17 year olds who used an illegal handgun.
Susan’s mother was appearing at the Dolphin as part of a promotional tour for her recently published book, The Unthinkable: Life, Loss, and A Mother’s Mission to Ban Illegal Guns (Brown Books, $16.95). She’ll also present at the Barnes & Noble on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset on April 3 at 7 P.M.
The longtime activist was occasionally teary-eyed as she addressed an audience of over 30 in the small bookstore. Her voice broke with emotion several times as she recounted the story of what happened to her daughter, how the family dealt with the tragedy, her ongoing fight to lessen gun violence and how she came to write her book.
Susan’s death was even more shocking as her mother had already become involved in the movement against guns before the St. Louis shooting, never imagining that her own family would ever be so directly impacted. The Schaffers also have a son, Eric.
Many in the group were supporters and fellow members of Reach Out America, a group she described as a grass roots political action group. One of her strongest supporters and longtime friend, State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, drove in from Albany to introduce her.
Schimel, who has served on the board of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence almost 20 years, said “Lois is my Tigger,” comparing her friend to a favorite character in the Winnie The Pooh series. “Nothing ever gets her down.”
Also present to support Schaffer was Joyce Gurycki, chairwoman of the Long Island chapter of the same group whose board Schimel serves on. Gurycki’s husband, James, was one of the six killed by a gunman on the Long Island Rail Road 20 years ago.
“Lois has always had an interest in gun violence prevention,” Schimel continued. “She would go with me to Albany and we would work together on it. Then the unspeakable happened. If it was my child I know that I couldn’t even raise my head from my pillow. But Lois was able to refuel and reenergize in a very short time and said to me, ‘I’m going to fight even harder now.’”
“Michelle came to speak to Reach Out America in October of 2008,” Schaffer told the audience: “Michelle tells me about this bill she’s working on to reduce gun violence and two months later, we’re victims.”
Schaffer’s original idea was to write a script for a documentary. She sent it to a filmmaker in California. His opinion was that it would be more effective to write a book. “So that’s what I did,” said Schaffer.
“I felt compelled to speak out about the cataclysmic consequences suffered by our society due to the unbounded prevalence of guns,” she explained as one of her key reasons in writing the book.
“I wrote the book not just for me, not just as a tribute to Susie but for so many others,” she added. “It’s gotten worse. Since December 2008, gun violence has escalated.”
“Susie was a vibrant human being that anyone could identify with,” she said in remembering the mother of three children, Rachel (now 28), Daniel (23) and Sarah (21). “She was a single mother who had finally realized her dream of owning a fitness studio.” Schaffer said that part of her mission was to put a face on the issue of gun violence by writing about her daughter and raising public consciousness about the easy accessibility of guns.
“Nothing has happened on a national level and very little on a state level,” Schaffer pointed out.
“No gun safety measures have been implemented, trafficking continues and guns are easily purchased, no questions asked. Gun violence is a daily occurrence and can happen to anyone at anytime.”
She criticized the heavy influence of the National Rifle Association across the country. “The NRA is not even discussing compromise,” she said. “It’s a dirty word to them and connotes a violation of their misguided second amendment rights. If each of us can put our energies into what is right, just and sensible, perhaps we can preserve the sanctity of life, not destroy it.”
Schaffer was deeply affected by the Newtown school massacre. “In viewing all of the media coverage of the events, the one person that impressed me was this young Rabbi in Newtown, Shaul Praver,” she recalled. She contacted Praver to ask him if there was anything that she could do and was surprised to find out that the Rabbi had ironically graduated from Great Neck South with Susan.