Daniel Barden should have started seventh grade this fall. But the photos of him as a first-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School with his big smile and missing two front teeth are the last pictures that we will ever have. Joaquin Oliver would have graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last spring, and was preparing himself for the next chapter of his life.
Mass shootings, like the ones in Newtown, Conn., and Parkland, Fla., that forever changed our lives, dominate the news coverage and form indelible impressions on our national psyche. However, news of bullets flying in schools, churches, concerts, nightclubs, office buildings, streets, and homes has become routine in the United States. Most days – and there are gun-related deaths every single day – it barely even makes the news.
The numbers are staggering: 12,000 gun-related homicides each year; 22,000 gun-related suicides; 90,000 non-fatal injuries; and an untold and uncounted number of witnesses, friends, and family members whose lives are forever darker, if not unrecognizable, because of this preventable scourge.
Over decades, a narrative replete with false choices has been carefully crafted. We are told that this magnitude of death and suffering is the price of freedom; that any regulation of firearms threatens the Second Amendment; that the answer if you seek more safety is more weapons and bulletproof school desks. A new generation of Americans has been thrust into the center of this discussion — not because we sought a fight, but because the consequences of this irresponsible discourse were forced, irrevocably, into our lives. And we are calling out these lies.
We can prevent gun violence by implementing policies that are entirely consistent with Second Amendment protections. The middle, common ground is vast. Almost 90 percent of Americans, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, think that background checks should be required for all gun purchases. Eighty-five percent think that those who carry a concealed weapon should be required to pass a test demonstrating they can handle the gun safely; 81 percent think that people subject to a domestic violence restraining order should be prohibited from owning a gun for the duration of that order. It is hard to think of other issues that unite Americans so closely.
The potential for consensus is only affirmed as we engage in conversations with people with whom we supposedly disagree. Students and other young leaders from March for Our Lives have spoken to Americans, young and old, all across the country. We have talked with protestors armed with assault rifles and have stood shoulder to shoulder with survivors and families of gun violence victims. Every time, we were able to come to an agreement on the vast majority of issues.
This is a public safety and public health challenge, and the large majority of Americans stand together in the effort to help save lives. Change is starting to come. By forming new alliances — between students, health care workers, parents, public health experts, business women and men, and politicians who represent our values and interests — we can change the national discourse. Politicians cannot allow the threat of a bad rating from the National Rifle Association to hold them hostage. Instead, we are creating a culture in which an F rating from the NRA is seen as a badge of courage that represents rejecting the status quo and standing for communities, not donors. We are creating a culture that recognizes that the greatest threat to progress is not those who vote differently in elections, but those who don’t vote at all. In the last 100 years, no presidential election has seen a turnout above 65 percent; no midterm election has cracked 50 percent. We will be the generation that ends gun violence. But we will end it only if we vote — starting November 6.
Americans agree on steps to prevent gun violence. Now is time to engage and to vote to make that a reality. Daniel and Joaquin and so many others taken from us remind us every day that we are in the fight for our lives. And the young people will win.
David Hogg is a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings and cofounder of the student-led March for Our Lives. Dr. Chana Sacks is a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. She cofounded the MGH Gun Violence Prevention Coalition after the death of her cousin’s son at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As part of HUBweek, David Hogg and Chana Sacks will participate in a discussion titled “A New Revolution: Young People Rise Up Against Gun Violence,” hosted by Mass. General Hospital at Faneuil Hall on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 4 p.m. The event is free and requires a HUBweek General Admission Pass.