Content warning: This article contains mention of gun violence.
I was in the fourth grade when Sandy Hook happened. There are some memories that remain vivid even as the days, months and years of your life start to mush together. Sandy Hook is a vivid memory for me, despite being a 10-year-old living 800 miles away.
There are no words to describe the pain and horror you feel when your fourth grade teacher tells you that a group of elementary students, just like yourself, have been murdered in their classroom. Even if it is presented using more kid-friendly vernacular, you can’t mask the gruesomeness of someone killing 26 people. I can still almost hear the kids in my class crying upon hearing the news that day. I still see the pictures of the victim’s faces projected on the whiteboard. I still feel the paper I was holding — a letter from our principal that we were told to take home to our parents, assuring them that our elementary school would take necessary safety measures, that their children would not be murdered. Most of all, I remember so many people saying “never again” — and I remember believing them. Because I was in fourth grade, and fourth-grade students are supposed to be worried about what type of dessert their mom packed for lunch and passing their math test on division, not getting shot during class.
It’s been almost ten years since Sandy Hook. It’s been ten years since the politicians proclaimed “never again” and promised to do something to protect us. Yet, on May 24, 2022, a gunman murdered 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, robbing these bright, joyful kids of their futures. Now, as the country mourns alongside Uvalde while they cope with this indescribable loss, the urgency for common-sense gun control seems more vital than ever.
Gun violence is ultimately a public health epidemic — one that disproportionately affects young people and people of Color. In fact, firearms are the leading cause of death for American adolescents. Black children and teens are 14 times more likely to die from gun homicide compared to white children of the same age. White supremacists, often radicalized by right-wing media, have repeatedly committed mass shootings targeting people of Color. These hate crimes undoubtedly become much deadlier when the perpetrator has access to firearms. Targeted attacks evoke constant psychological distress for marginalized groups, especially since white supremacists can easily acquire firearms legally in America. It is also important to remember that mass shootings only encompass a fraction of the victims of gun violence — which also include deaths from suicides, accidents, domestic violence, murders and other instances.
These high rates of gun violence are a uniquely American problem. The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries, such as Canada, Japan and Spain. Nearly every American in their lifetime will know someone who is a victim of gun violence. So why is gun violence synonymous with America, and how has it become an “American issue?” While conservatives will try to pin mass shootings on violent video games, a decline in traditional family values or mental health problems, it is imperative to remember that all industrialized countries are facing similar issues — except these countries don’t have an absurd amount of guns in circulation with weak forms of gun control in place. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact number of privately owned guns in America without a federal database, but there are an estimated 390 million guns in the U.S. This number is likely higher due to the increase in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the research is clear: More guns lead to increased gun homicides.
With a major source of the problem — the number of guns and little regulation — being so clear, it is frustrating to see the lack of legislative reform on the federal level, especially when it has been shown at the state level that gun laws work. States with strong gun reform in place have seen less gun violence, and those without basic gun protection laws in place have an almost tripled amount of gun deaths compared to those that do.
Gun reform can take many shapes. One of the most popular solutions is implementing universal background checks for firearm purchases, directly closing the Charleston loophole which allows gun sales to proceed after three days, even if the background check has not been completed. This alone is predicted to reduce firearm deaths from 10.3 to 4.46 per 100,000 people. Additionally, many policymakers have implored the idea of banning assault weapons and bump stocks, which make mass shootings significantly deadlier. There is also sufficient evidence that supports mandating gun licenses, which would require gun owners to obtain a permit before purchasing a gun. In Missouri, the elimination of their permit to purchase law led to a 25% increase in gun homicide rates. Congress should also lift the funding restrictions on gun violence research. Based on mortality rates alone, gun violence research should have received $1.4 billion in federal research funds. However, due to the National Rifle Association-backed legislation, the Center for Disease Control and other federal agencies, gun violence research only received $22 million, 1.6% of the projected amount. Thousands of studies are waiting to be conducted to find the most effective forms of gun reform, yet they will never come to fruition due to the limited budget allocated by Congress.
Since Sandy Hook, my childhood can be marked by a long string of seemingly never-ending school shootings. I have had normalized conversations with my teachers and peers about what we would do if a gunman came into our classroom and tried to kill us. In my sixth-grade history class, my teacher told us during our active shooter drill that the best place to hide was behind the trifold presentation boards we made earlier in the semester. In my 10th-grade chemistry class, my teacher told us to throw glass beakers at the gunman. And in my 11th-grade band class, my instructor told us that our instruments might be able to deflect bullets. The practice was so ingrained in me, I had to step back and realize that only in America are students taught how to optimize school supplies as weapons of self-defense.
Despite all this “training,” I still don’t feel any safer going to school. What would make me feel safer is gun control — because it’s proven to work. Countries like Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Norway had mass shootings, proceeded to tighten their gun laws and saw a sharp decrease in gun violence. And the majority of U.S. voters are in favor of it. That’s why, like many Americans, I am so angry at the clear disconnect between voters and legislators that is leading to a major gap in necessary gun restriction policy. I’m angry that, despite shooting after shooting, Republican politicians block gun control to sell out American lives for NRA donations. I’m angry at establishment Democrats, who fundraise off these massacres only to readily give up when Republicans refuse to comprise. How many people have to die, how many shootings have to occur, for gun reform to become a priority for politicians?
If the events that transpired in Uvalde, Texas are anything like the others, the media will move on, politicians will move on and, unless the Senate can come to a bipartisan agreement on gun control, Americans will be left without any substantive reform. But I urge you not to feel hopeless — the NRA wants you to become jaded and compliant. In fact, Peter Ambler, political director at the gun control advocacy group Giffords, said, “One of the broader barriers (to gun reform) is hopelessness, which is the NRA’s chief political product … they use hopelessness to stymie progress.” So as the others move on from Uvalde and countless other mass shootings go unreported, I urge you to support communities affected by gun violence, remember the victims and fight for gun reform. I urge you to fight to fix this broken political system that halts progress and allows for these mass shootings to happen over and over again.
MiC Columnist Maya Kogulan can be reached at email@example.com.