I was in high school when Columbine happened. At the time, everything about it felt surreal, unsettling. Growing up in an area that was considered safe, it seemed unfathomable that something like that could happen. Surely, it would never happen at my high school. Surely, it was an impossible thing. Still, I remember the unease, walking those halls, the whisper of worry in the eyes of my classmates. My mother’s more emphatic “be careful.” Then, it was an anomaly. Now, it is commonplace.
You’re on Your Own, Kid
Children practice active shooter drills, learning what to do if the worst happens. (Time and again, this terror bears out in reality, a grim nightmare made real. Remember when a survivor of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting smeared a classmate’s blood on herself and played dead?) On April 10, I listened to news about the mass shooting that occurred at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky, where ordinary people were going about their day, running routine errands—until five of them weren’t. A scant few days later, on April 15, four people were killed and 28 people were injured at a Sweet 16 birthday party in Dadeville, Alabama. As I learned about that shooting, I was still reeling about the previous recent shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 27.
Again, someone who purchased a gun legally has ended lives. And again, there are those in power who could do something, but simply shrug, offer “thoughts and prayers,” and do nothing. Except, of course, keep their own children safe, like Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee) who casually, callously quipped that his solution for his daughter was to homeschool her. Yes, that is a privileged statement, because not everyone can do that for myriad reasons. But also, if a member of the U.S. House of Representatives is that concerned about his daughter’s safety that he will not let her attend school, my goodness, what does that say about the threat to our lives, our children’s lives?
On April 13, a teenager, Ralph Yarl, was shot in the head when he accidentally rang a doorbell at the wrong address, having been sent to pick up his younger siblings. According to testimony, Yarl was shot a second time as he was lying on the ground; when he sought help from neighbors, bleeding, he was turned away from two houses. The third house called for aid. A child should be able to ring a doorbell without being shot for it. Only a few days later (April 15), Kaylin Gillis, a passenger in a car with three others, was shot and killed while they happened to turn into the wrong driveway as they searched for a friend’s house. The homeowner fired from his front porch. Only a few days after that, two high school cheerleaders in Texas were shot after accidentally getting into the wrong car. They are both recovering. Shootings are an observable, deadly problem. And the problem is not the guns.
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
If there was ever a time to do something to protect people who are simply out in the world living their lives, doing ordinary things, it’s now. We can’t go back in time and fix things. We can’t undo the damage that was done at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, or a concert in Las Vegas. Sadly, there’s no time machine. And no one is coming to save us.
However, we can—and will—save ourselves. I have to believe that. Because all we need to make change is to stand up for the right thing. And yet, the Associated Press (AP) reports that following the aforementioned shooting in Tennessee, Republican lawmakers—in a move that is wildly incomprehensible, especially given the timing—passed a proposal that would provide more protections for gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers, and sellers against lawsuits. The bill was sent to Governor Bill Lee’s desk, despite pushback from Democrats. But not just state representatives were appalled. Ordinary citizens were too: “The civil liabilities bill passed just ahead of a protest in which people formed a human chain through Nashville to the Capitol in support of gun control measures,” AP reports. It’s not merely a tonal disconnect that pushed that bill forward. It’s avoidance. It’s a failure to perform a basic duty of any political office: to serve the people.
We are not safe. This has been proven, time and time again, because someone walked into a movie theater or a church with the intent and weaponry to kill. And they did. It has been proven when an armed man deliberately drove into a crowd of protesters. I won’t cite an example for that, because it’s happened too many times. Those clinging, petulantly, to the notion that we have a right to bear arms willfully ignore the part that says we can do so as part of a well-regulated militia. They will not acknowledge that a musket could not do the same kind of damage an AR-15 can. They will not set their greed down in the face of the absolute carnage such guns render on a child’s small body.
Instead of acting with compassion and care, they speak of decorum, but only in a manner that suits a specific narrative. Consider that on April 6, two members of the Tennessee state legislature were expelled from it (while another was threatened with expulsion) for protesting alongside their constituents about school safety and gun violence. The fate of the Tennessee Three, as they have been dubbed, was an expression of prejudice as well: Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Black, were expelled, while Gloria Johnson was not. Johnson is white, and she herself noted publicly that she believes that difference in skin color was the cause for the different treatment. (Note: Justin Jones was reinstated by the Nashville Metropolitan Council. Not long after, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners reinstated Justin Pearson.)
According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of this writing, there have been 173 mass shootings this year. That is more than there have been days in the year so far. Data—which is as clear cut as something can be—tells us that 77% of mass shootings are committed using legally purchased firearms. And yet, there are those—like Rep. Burchett—who claim nothing can be done. But that’s not even close to the truth, given how the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (often referred to as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban), which was a part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, functioned. A 2004 report by the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice notes that the number of gun crimes involving automatic weapons dropped by 17% in the six cities involved in the study during the ban. While it can be argued that those wanting to commit a crime will always find a way, that is not a compelling argument to do nothing. It’s not OK to pretend that this is normal.
Congressional action could save lives, and I strongly believe that saving even just one life would be worthy of common sense gun laws (things such as banning the sale of high-capacity magazines, updating laws that prohibit untraceable firearms, and universal background checks). Again, I’ll say it: We are not safe. But we are also not powerless. We do not have to accept things as they are, because they don’t have to be this way. We have a voice. And I would encourage you to use it, to call your congressperson(s) and senators. They work for us. It’s time to remind them of that.
Making phone calls can be scary, but here are a few quick tips that I’ve learned from Celeste Pewter, a former political staffer:
- Only call your reps. I know it can be tempting to yell at whoever said something horrifying this week. But only calls to your own reps are logged and counted. To call your reps, if you don’t know them, use the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121.
- To begin either speaking with a staffer or leaving a message, state your name, ZIP code, and that you’re a constituent of the person you are calling.
- Stick to one issue, and be as heartfelt as you can. A personal anecdote or plea is useful, but not necessary.
- Write a script beforehand. Reading a statement can make it far less nerve-wracking. Trust me, I hate phone calls. If I can do it, so can you. Pewter offers a sample to get you started.