The United States is facing a deadly plague. The lack of effective regulation of firearms has lead us down a slippery slope filled with tens of thousands of gun deaths every year. Lives have been lost, families altered permanently. We, as a country, too easily forget that these are not just statistics. These are human lives. Gone forever.
Change is coming. We are creating change. We, as a movement, will change our culture for the better.
But our path to positive change will be severely impeded if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is appointed to the highest court in the land. In addition to being the antithesis of everything our movement stands for, Judge Kavanaugh has the full support of the National Rifle Association. They have pledged to mobilize their membership and have already devoted over $40,000 to advertise their support. That number does not even account for the amount of money they will be spending on campaign coffers of Senators who will support his nomination.
Judge Kavanaugh claimed in his dissent in Heller v. District of Columbia that Supreme Court precedent dictates that firearm registries and bans on assault weapons and magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds of ammunition are unconstitutional. With him on the bench, the Supreme Court will likely strike down as many gun regulation measures already in place as they can, should cases be presented to them. Make no mistake: Judge Kavanaugh on the bench will be a danger to students and all people nationwide, especially people of color.
The survivors from Parkland know this. They have placed a great deal of emphasis on how gun violence impacts communities of color at a disproportionate rate compared to white communities. Much of their work has been in partnership with the Peace Warriors, a student activist group from Chicago made up predominantly of black teenagers dedicated to the fight against gun violence. Most recently, they have partnered with the NAACP to encourage our nation’s youngest voters to register and to make their voices heard. Through the Peace Warriors, the Parkland teens, and their partnership with the NAACP, voices of young students of color are now at the forefront of the national conversation. Yolanda Renee King, 9 years old and the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., and Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old from Virginia, spoke at the March For Our Lives on March 24 and gave perhaps the most profound remarks of the day.
We cannot forget that gun violence prevention is a feminist issue. Recently, fellow interns and I with a few staff members and NOW president, Toni Van Pelt, attended a press conference hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, regarding the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) where we heard from a survivor of domestic violence. During the investigation into her case, authorities informed her that because her abuser was a gun-owner, his guns would be confiscated, but there was nothing that the police could do to prevent him from buying more. He would go on to purchase another gun and shoot the survivor as well as her father, disabling him for the rest of his life. It was only after this tragedy that the abuser was indicted and locked away for 60 years. The reauthorization of VAWA, introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, aims to close existing loopholes in federal law by preventing all convicted domestic abusers from ever obtaining firearms again.
Firearms, especially those of the semi-automatic/automatic varieties, do not belong on our streets. We need better-trained law enforcement that will not pull their weapons on every person of color they see on the side of the road. The United States has more guns than people living in it. The country desperately needs an automatic weapons ban and tougher restrictions on all gun purchases done in stores and in private and at gun shows. We, as a society, need to learn to think properly about how dangerous guns actually are and how they need to be treated as the public health risk that they pose. Gun manufacturers have funneled loads of money to Congress through the NRA so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot properly research gun violence any longer. The Dickey Amendment prohibits this area of important research and forces all government documentation on gun registrations be done by hand on pen and paper – effectively banning all electronic data entry thus making law enforcement investigations and gun violence prevention research even more impossible than it already is. Some of these records have been all but destroyed by fire or water damage and lost to history forever, making these guns and their owners invisible to the eyes of the government.
As a democratic society, we have completely failed to adopt laws and policies that promote public safety, recognizing that ownership of firearms needs to be effectively regulated — as most other developed nations do. From January to June 2018, more students and teachers were shot and killed on school grounds than U.S. troops in active combat zones. Each week of the 2018 school year brought with it a new school shooting. These are shootings and deaths and injuries that could have been prevented. Lives that could have been saved. Precious lives that are now lost, because of the NRA’s senseless agenda to sell more guns on the absurd pretense that only more guns can stop gun violence. Their well-funded propaganda campaign has fed the growth of violent fringe groups and gun-toting fundamentalists. The NRA’s incessant promotion of an outdated and misinterpreted amendment as an unlimited right to own guns – even military-style assault weapons – has created this violent epidemic ailing our society. In 2017, guns accounted for over 37,500 deaths including suicides, a tragic total that has been rising every year since 2012.
I have lived my entire life in a reality that is plagued by senseless gun violence.
In July 2012, 12 people were killed and 70 were injured at a movie premiere in Aurora, Colorado that I had planned to attend in Florida the next day. I spent the entire length of the film staring at the exit door hoping there wouldn’t be a copycat attack and mapping out each entry-way in the theatre.
In December 2012, I returned home from my first semester as a freshman in high school only to turn on the news and learn that 27 innocent people had lost their lives, 20 of them under the age of seven in Newtown, Connecticut.
In June 2016, I was at summer camp when I learned of the Pulse nightclub shooting in my home state. When I heard the news, I felt a wave of fear wash over me as I frantically called and texted my friends in the area praying that I would hear back from them.
October of 2017, the deadliest shooting this country has ever seen – Las Vegas, Nevada. 59 killed. Of the 851 injured, 422 were by gunfire.
About one month later, at almost midnight of November 21, 2017 – my birthday – I was finishing a paper in my school’s library when I received a text from the Brandeis Emergency Notification System. It said: “BENS ALERT: REPORTED ARMED SUSPECT ON CAMPUS. TAKE SHELTER, LOCK DOORS & WINDOWS. SILENCE CELL PHONE. REMAIN QUIET & AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTION.” Those of us on the top floor retreated to a group study room with floor-to-ceiling windows. I had to tell my best friend not to call me and communicate to my parents that I was in a lock-down. I had to answer texts from my closest friends who had called to wish me a happy birthday and tell them I was shaking with anxiety. Two and a half hours later we were told that the situation was clear and we were to return to our rooms immediately. I learned that “the situation” was two armed robbers in the building connected to my dorm. My friends saw the suspects walk by.
Then on Valentine’s Day of this year, the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, again in my home state of Florida. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My friends went there. Their siblings were still there.
I returned home for a week shortly after the massacre where I watched my Senators and a Florida Congressman participate in a town hall with some of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors, parents, and faculty members. I watched Dana Loesch, the national spokesperson for the NRA, offer nothing more than “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families.
It was then that I knew I could not sit idly by and that my generation had the power to create change.
Immediately upon returning to school, I connected with some friends about where we, as the nation’s youth, move from here. We knew that this was the beginning of the end. We would make this the last shooting. With the Union for Reform Judaism, we organized 3,000 people to join us at the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. I helped organize seven fellow college students from the Greater Boston Area to attend the march and arranged for their transportation and lodging. My friends and I spoke to those 3,000 marchers alongside Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the classmates and friends of the victims. After an hour-long program of mental and emotional preparation, we joined the 800,000 people on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the eyes of the United States federal government to demand stricter gun regulations.
At the march, I cried while singing “Happy Birthday” to Nicholas Dworet, a 17-year old victim from Parkland. I cried when Emma Gonzalez stood in silence for six minutes and twenty seconds, the length of time it took for 17 people to be shot and killed in her school. I cried at NOW’s National Conference when Ethel Guttenberg, the grandmother of 14-year old Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg talked about losing her exceptional granddaughter.
I have only known a world where I need to always be prepared for a shooter entering my school or my campus with the intent to cause harm and to kill. My peers and I need to live with the fact that, at any point, a person can walk into a place of learning and fire round after round of ammunition, killing ourselves and our friends and our mentors. People’s children and children’s parents run the risk of dying every day they go to work.
It does not have to be this way.
And soon it won’t be. Sooner than later, we will see change. Congress will change hands to more sensible people that are fully aware of the danger that Brett Kavanaugh would pose on the bench should he be confirmed. People who realize that reality, as it stands now, is far too dangerous and that our culture needs to change. We will not rest until every child and every adult is safe from gun violence. No one should ever have to drop their child off to school praying that they come home alive and in one piece. I do not want to sing “Happy Birthday” to another dead child whose life could have been saved if lawmakers had just opened their ears instead of their wallets. They have to learn to think with what they know is right in their heads (discuss) and in their chests and not with what’s in their pockets.
I am done living in fear. My generation is done living in fear. We will be taken seriously or this country will continue to face the consequences of a gun-plagued society. We have lived in fear for too long. We’re done. We are not satisfied. We will not be complicit. We seek change. We will make change.
Change. Is. Coming.
Josh C. is a President’s Office Intern at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Action Center in Washington, DC. He is a student at Brandies University.