We are fast approaching an important personal anniversary for me. I find myself today bubbling over with jumbled emotions and thoughts, so I thought I’d share a few.
Nearly a year ago, on February 14, 2018, students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were gunned down by a young man using an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle. Seventeen people died, and seventeen more were injured. In the shooting’s wake, I found I could not go on as I had been. It clearly wasn’t enough.
PAST BRUSHES WITH GUN VIOLENCE
My life is as ordinary and plain as one can get. It is relatively drama free. I don’t personally own a gun, nor do I shoot, but those close to me do, for fun, to hunt and for protection. As a white, middle-class American, living in the suburbs, I may know of guns. But how could I possibly be touched by gun violence? Yet even I have.
My mother was a school teacher for a major city area. When I was little, I witnessed my mother’s elementary school and surrounding community devastated by the senseless death of a young student due to a drive-by shooting, a plague hitting the urban African-American communities at the time. Just like a pestilence, the communities did not know who would be spared and who would die, but many innocent, young lives were being lost.
Later on, I helped a friend pack up his roommate’s things after her unsuccessful suicide attempt. He prided himself on projecting an unflappable air, but that day he was pale and shaken. He finally admitted, nearly in tears, that she had tried to get to his guns, saying, “Thank God I keep them locked up.” We all knew what he wasn’t saying. Had she gotten to the guns, she would not have survived.
Years later, I worked at normal office high-rise, at a normal office job, in normal suburbia. Quitting time arrived; several co-workers left. I and my boss stayed on as per our usual. Then we got a call from a local courier we used. He asked if we were all right. We had no idea what he meant. He explained there were reports of a gunman on the loose in our building. My boss and I looked outside and saw numerous police and emergency vehicles in front of the building.
Then we got calls from my co-workers, talking about how they got to the ground floor of the building and were met by cops with guns in full tactical gear as they tried to exit. One of the ladies was very pregnant at the time, and I remember us asking if she was all right.
My boss and I were stuck in a building with a gunman only a few floors down, with no information, no guidance, and limited action we could take to protect ourselves. In the end, the gunman was content to shoot up only one office. He killed three, including himself, and injured four more. Barely a blip on the national statistics.
I live a hum-drum existence, in a safe neighborhood. Nothing unusual at all. How on earth had I managed to have even these glancing brushes with gun violence?
VIOLENCE THAT JUST KEEPS COMING
As a result, for years, I have been looking up the numbers and looking beyond the talking points various people put out regarding guns and gun legislation in America. I did not form my opinions from thin air or to appease my gut. I formed them based on the information available, including recognition of what was and was not being admitted by the various sides. The conclusion: America has a gun violence problem that could be reduced or prevented.
All the while, we had more mass shootings. 2007 – Virginia Tech; 2009 – Fort Hood. 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary School and Aurora, Colorado. 2013 – Washington Navy Yard. 2015 – San Bernardino and Umpqua Community College.
Re-finding my voice in the social media age, I spent at least the last two years prior to the Parkland shooting trying to offer open dialogue on guns in this country. I wrote about it in my blog and discussed with people on Facebook. I addressed the concerns of gun advocates calmly, with facts and logic. I wanted to encourage people to be open minded, not attacking each other. To look at the facts, and be honest with themselves.
I especially tried to step up my efforts after June 12, 2016. A gunman, using a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol, killed 49 people and wounded 53 more at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. I found I could not remain silent in the face of the spin some tried to put on gun violence in this country: There is no problem. It’s not the guns; it’s Muslims. Or immigrants. “Moar guns.”
Then, only a few months before the shooting in Parkland, on October 1, 2017, a gunman, using a variety of AR-15 and AR-10 style semi-automatic rifles with bump stocks, killed 58 people and injured 851 more as they attended a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Only a month after the Las Vegas events, on November 5, 2017, a gunman, using a Ruger 556 semi-automatic rifle, killed 26 people and injured 20 more as they attended the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
CROSSING THE RIVER
I had been trying to talk toward common good regarding guns, gun violence and gun legislation in America from October 2017 to February 2018, and despite three terrible incidents in a very short time, I still faced a stone wall. Talking was no longer enough. I needed to do.
With the help of friends pointing me in the right direction, I made my way to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that is not anti-gun, but does believe that common sense actions, both legislative and non-legislative, can be taken to reduce gun violence in America while preserving Second Amendment rights and people’s desire to protect themselves. They do more than talk. They do. They show up. They call. They ask questions of legislators. They educate communities on child safety regarding guns.
I still haven’t done much. I wrote some postcards. I showed up to some events. I called some legislators. I spoke up at a town hall to address gun advocate concerns head on. I went to a protest or two. But I’m not done yet. I will be doing more. I’m not going away, because the problem is not going away.
Last night, Donald Glover, under the pseudonym Childish Gambino, made Grammy history when his “This is America” became the first hip-hop song to win Song of the Year. The video of the song had some brutal things to say about the African-American experience and gun violence in America. Take this as a sign of where we are on gun violence, America.
Meanwhile, tonight, instead of the regular monthly meeting, my local Moms Demand Action group has put together a gathering with various state and federal legislators to impress upon them that doing something about gun violence is an important issue at the grass roots level, and that grass roots matter. I will be there as part of a show of force.
We can do better America. We can do more to prevent senseless gun violence. We can reduce deaths by suicide and in domestic violence. We can do more to protect our kids and ourselves from “accidents” with guns. We can do better, all without revoking gun rights or limiting people’s ability to protect themselves. The answer is not “moar guns.” The answer is gun sense. That’s all Moms Demand Action and others are asking for. Common sense.
Moms Demand Action is made up of moms, dads, and people who have never been parents. It’s made up of gun owners and those who don’t own guns. It’s made up of gun violence survivors and those never directly touched by gun violence. It’s made up of people from all gender identifications, all cultural identifications, all skin colors, all religions, and all walks of life. All of us recognize there is a problem, it’s affecting innocent people, and we can do something to make it better.
Gun advocate or pacifist does not matter. There is room for all. We can do better America. Come help make it happen.