Consider the fact that children today have never spent a day in school without the fear of being shot.
From Columbine in 1999 to Sandy Hook in 2012 to Parkland in 2018, and now Uvalde, Texas, more than 187,000 kids have experienced a school shooting. Children in these age groups should be thought of as “Generation Abandoned” because the adults of America, and their elected representatives, have done nothing to remedy this shocking human-made public safety crisis. No place is safe — schools, churches, parks, grocery stores — in the mass-shooting-a-day culture that is unique to this country.
Just in the past 10 days, more than two dozen Americans in Buffalo and Texas were killed while grocery shopping and attending elementary school. Two 18-year-olds, one armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, the other carrying multiple weapons, were identified as the shooters.
For decades, adults of all political persuasions have faulted the “broken mental health system” and raised other (mostly partisan) distractions and grievances, and then done nothing to fix any of them.
No consumer protection regulations for gun manufacturers.
No limits on military-style assault weapons.
No limits on oversize ammunition magazines.
No background checks required for private and online sales.
Over the past several years, a new generation of Americans has organized and mobilized a movement not unlike ones in the past that spurred dramatic changes to civil rights and America’s involvement in Vietnam.
On Valentine’s Day 2018, the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, most of them toddlers when Columbine occurred, joined the 187,000 youngsters who had already been through the nightmare of a school shooting. These Parkland teens discovered, to their disgust, that nothing had changed since Columbine.
The March For Our Lives movement — comprising those Gen Z kids — set out to succeed where previous generations had failed, and their successes have been remarkable. Student activists registered more than 50,000 people to vote in the 2018 midterms, and youth turnout set new records. Candidates supported by gun violence prevention organizations were able to win in 88 of 129 races in 2018. The movement helped 50 new gun laws get passed at the state level (including 14 by Republican governors) and secure funding (after a 26-year hiatus) for the federal government to study gun violence.
Despite these encouraging results, a huge roadblock remains. Common-sense gun safety legislation routinely dies in the US Senate because of the filibuster. Hiding behind the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment — and being supported by gun lobby dollars — these politicians apparently consider more than 100 gun deaths every day and a mass shooting a day an acceptable loss, even when it is their own constituents who are the victims.
The Biden administration could get around the filibuster through executive orders, such as the recent one on ghost guns. President Biden could establish an Office of Gun Violence Prevention similar to the ones we have for climate, labor, and transportation safety. He could fund more violence intervention and mental health programs. To date, little has happened.
Roughly 84 percent of voters, including 77 percent of Republicans, and a majority of gun owners support universal background checks. Nobody is calling for abandoning Second Amendment rights. Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative constitutional “originalist,” determined that such rights are “not unlimited.” Federal and state courts have consistently held that reasonable restrictions on how guns are sold are not unconstitutional.
Sensible gun laws save lives without banning all guns. Massachusetts has proved it. Since 1994, when Massachusetts began to seriously address gun violence prevention legislation, including first in the nation consumer safety regulations for all guns sold in the Commonwealth and a ban on assault weapons, the state’s gun death rate is down 40 percent. It remains one of the lowest in the nation and it was accomplished on a bipartisan basis. According to an in-depth study by the Globe, if the rest of the country followed our lead, we could save 27,000 lives a year.
Gun violence is preventable. The fact that it continues is a measure of bad public safety policy and special interest politics. In deep blue cities and deep red counties, our struggles are not identical, but they are common American struggles. Complacency and inaction have resulted in over 1 million dead since 1975 from largely preventable gun violence and have left children a far more dangerous world. The next Parkland or Sandy Hook is a matter of when, not if.
The national focus should be on the Senate enacting the same universal criminal background check legislation already overwhelmingly passed by the House; consumer protection regulations for the uniquely unregulated firearm industry, currently prohibited by Congress from federal oversight; and renewing the previous federal ban on military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, the weapons of choice by the majority of mass shooters. These are policies that we can all agree on to move this issue forward and save countless lives.
What kind of a society are we if we lack the will to protect our own children?
David Hogg, a 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is the cofounder of March For Our Lives and a college student. John Rosenthal is the cofounder of Stop Handgun Violence and a sportsman/gun owner.