When Shira Goodman first interviewed for her job as executive director at CeaseFirePA in 2012, James Holmes entered a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., with multiple firearms, killing 12.
In her career with the anti-gun violence organization, she watched the statistics grow: Sandy Hook. Pulse nightclub. Las Vegas. Parkland.
After almost six years with CeaseFirePA, Goodman is taking a leave of absence to devote time to her own congressional campaign. She’s running in the May 15 Democratic primary for the newly redrawn Fourth Congressional District, alongside other Democratic candidates state Rep. Mary Jo Daley (District 148), state Rep. Madeleine Dean (District 153) and former U.S. Rep. Joe Hoeffel, as well as Republican candidate Dan David.
In an interview, she said that running for office never crossed her mind before; she enjoyed instead working on policy as a lawyer and advocate.
But since the 2016 election, she thought about how she could be a part of “the broader fight,” rather than a single issue.
With the opening of the new Montgomery County seat, she jumped on the opportunity to “be a part of the insiders working on the legislation and policy.”
“I want to bring that voice — both on gun issues and other issues,” said Goodman, who lives in Dresher and belongs to both Congregation Adath Jeshurun, where she grew up, and Temple Sinai. “It’s a different way to be part of a fight.”
The anti-gun violence advocate said she backs other traditional Democratic policies: supporting reproductive rights, expanding health care, raising the minimum wage and decreasing college debt.
She’s also against the way she says President Donald Trump and his administration are “tolerating anti-Semitism and discrimination and racism — any kind of –ism against anyone who is perceived as different or other.”
Institutions of democracy are at risk, too, she said. “We can’t get distracted by tweets and by the drama of the day. … I want to be part of a voice that has the ability to amplify those messages and call out that behavior as dangerous and un-American.”
Goodman is also committed to Israel and its security, and hopes to see the U.S.-Israel relationship strengthen.
Goodman isn’t the only woman running for office this cycle with no prior government experience. (See: Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon’s recent governor bid in New York.)
As of February, 431 women were running for or were likely to run for the U.S. House nationwide — 339 Democrats and 92 Republicans — NPR reported, summarizing a recent study by Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. At the same point in 2016, there were 212. The amount of women running for the U.S. Senate also doubled this year compared to 2016.
Goodman credits the voters — young, old, women and people of color.
In speaking engagements across Montgomery County, she’s seen a blend of people — and full houses. “People are coming out to these meetings because they’re really concerned about the country, and they’re energized by what they’re hearing from different candidates.”
For so long, she said, society has followed the traditional path of rising through the ranks of government, but there are other ways people can lead. From the local level onward, Goodman predicts more representation in government-held positions.
“The laws that get made in Harrisburg and Washington affect all of us,” she said. “If there aren’t people who look like or sound like or care about the same things we do, or who are living with disabilities or who love different people than we love, then their voices aren’t being heard. We at least need that dialogue.”
Also on the local level and up, Goodman’s work with gun violence prevention affects communities across the nation, but she said she’ll use the skills she learned on the state level and apply them in a different way in Congress.
A common misconception she’s come across is the idea that gun control and the Second Amendment cannot coexist.
The Second Amendment, she explained, does not prohibit regulation. Like other constitutional rights, they are not absolute.
“Until the [Heller] Supreme Court decision in 2008, we did not have this concept that there was an individual right in the Second Amendment. It was viewed as being more about the militia. Although people did own guns throughout the country, it wasn’t viewed as an individually guaranteed constitutional right. … All of our rights come with responsibilities and are subject to regulation.”
And just because someone is pro-regulation doesn’t mean they’re anti-gun.
“You can hold both of those concepts in your mind consistently, and we have to find that common ground — and we can.”
Recent polls show that roughly 90 percent of Americans support background checks on every gun sale, she cited. Currently in Pennsylvania, there are ways to buy a semi-automatic rifle without a background check, and there are no waiting periods to buy firearms.
“Ninety percent of Americans don’t agree on anything,” she laughed, “but they’re agreeing on background checks for gun sales.” About 68 percent of Americans also approve of banning assault weapons, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll.
In the 19 years since Columbine, the gun control debate still circles the political arena. But the fact that it’s being talked about — with children holding adults and politicians accountable — is progress, she said.
“We need kids, adults, everybody to be talking about this” on both sides of the aisle, she said. “This is an American problem. We need American solutions.”