NEWTOWN, Conn. — Team 26, a group of cyclists, including many from across Fairfield County, embarked Saturday morning on a 400-mile journey from Newtown's Edmond Town Hall to the nation's capital in an effort to raise awareness about gun violence, and to honor the 26 lives lost in the Sandy Hook School massacre in 2012.
Saturday's weather for the fourth annual ride was nice compared to last year, when the group battled wintry conditions, and at times had to stop to clear snow and ice from their brake pads.
On the first day, Team 26 rode to Morristown, N.J. By Sunday evening they had arrived in Philadelphia. They are leaving Monday morning for Delaware and Maryland, and will arrive Tuesday at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
"Between now and the time we arrive in D.C., during our 400 miles, 300-plus Americans will die at the end of a firearm," Monte Frank, the leader of Team 26, told Daily Voice. "The urgency is there now ... we need to act. We need to make sure that congress acts. Until it does, it remains complicit in the gun deaths that plague the United States. We'll continue to press, and raise awareness on this issue, in hopes that by the time we ride next year, it will be in celebration of congress acting to enact common sense measures."
Frank recalled how he and some friends came up with the idea for the ride.
"After the shootings, none of us really slept," he said. "It was the middle of the night, and I said, 'Why don't we try to do a ride to raise awareness, and to honor the 26 we lost here.' I called a couple of my cycling buddies, and we put it together pretty quickly. Initially it was just about honoring the 26 in Newtown, then in talking with moms all over the country who've lost kids, its now about remembering and honoring them all."
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Newtown First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra and local gun violence prevention advocates were on hand to kick off the ride Saturday.
"I'm delighted to see that the crowd just keeps coming, and the riders will keep on riding, however long it takes," Esty said. "I think of the great social movements in this country, and sometimes they take decades ... but it's how things change.
"I'm so proud of Team 26 and Monte and the folks in this community," Esty added. "All along the way people compete for the opportunity to host Team 26 ... because it's what's best about America."
Once the group arrives In Washington, the team will present Blumenthal, Esty and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) with petitions signed by more than 36,000 Americans in support of legislation to improve safety at colleges and universities by making it more difficult for people to carry concealed weapons onto campus.
Blumenthal and Murphy will bring a petition to the floor of the Senate, and Esty will bring a petition to the floor of the House of Representatives.
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