Ian Leach: Hope for gun control

Monday, March 5, 2018 - 5:51pm

I was hopeless about gun control. Until now.

Another mass shooting. Over a dozen children dead. Prayers from both sides. Arguments about restricting guns. Rebukes from the NRA. You’ve heard and seen all of this before. In many ways, we had become so jaded to this process, I truly felt like we had lost hope. I, like many of us, had begun to feel that there was nothing that could be done. This being said, I’ve found some hope from those students advocating for gun control at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

You’ve likely heard a variety of jarring statistics, but let me provide a reminder: Nearly one in four have been threatened with a gun in their lifetime or have a family member who has been threatened. And this is even worse for minority communities: nearly a third of African-Americans have reported that they or their families have been threatened by gun violence. Whether it’s being threatened with a gun or regarding actual shootings, we can see that there has been little change in gun violence: 10 of the 15 deadliest shootings have occurred in the past 10 years.

I am likely preaching to the choir, unfortunately, despite the fact that nearly nine out of 10 Americans want more regulation on guns — specifically, common-sense legislation that includes restrictions on those with mental illnesses having access to guns as well as more thorough background checks. These legislative proposals have high support across party lines, and most people support ending private, unlicensed sales of firearms (colloquially known as the “gun show loophole”). Still, there has yet to be legislation that is representative of the will of the people. This is a true testament to the NRA and the number of officials that have received funding from them for their political campaigns. Here in Michigan, nine legislators have received funding from the NRA’s political action committee funds — unsurprisingly, all are members of the Republican Party, which has prevented gun control legislation from being enacted.

I had truly become so jaded to the cycle of thoughts and prayers, followed by the inundation of statistics and descriptions of the propagators of gun violence, and, finally, inaction from our legislative body. That is until I saw and heard from the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A high school senior, Emma Gonzalez spoke out against the inaction of government officials regarding gun control legislation.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call B.S.,” she said. “That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call B.S.”

I think it’s important to note that she is younger than all or nearly all of us here at the University of Michigan. It bears repeating that, despite the fact that she has yet to enter college, she is likely doing more than most of us regarding gun control legislation. While I’m sure many of us students are feeling upset about the recent events, I question if we have been willing to do what it takes to change the discourse surrounding gun control into tangible legislative action. It’s these kids who are starting protests, who are raising money and who are putting in the energy to take these concerns and grow them into national outcries in ways that I’m not sure I’ve seen before.

These young activists have pioneered the #NeverAgain movement. In doing so, they have raised nearly three million dollars in support of gun control legislation. In many ways, their protests and their voices have elevated the conversations in ways that an average person cannot. For the American public, and our legislators, having to hear from children who had to experience the effects of gun violence has seemingly turned the conversation in unexpected ways. Just the other day, President Donald Trump announced some tentative support for increasing background checks, surprising officials and virtually all of the American community. There is still hope that we can make the change, but, if there is to be effective legislation, those in support of gun control cannot let up now. If we are to pursue legislation, support can’t simply be just from the #NeverAgain individuals. It can’t be just from the victims of shootings. It has to be from every individual in the American government speaking out on what may be one of the larger issues of our time. What I now know, however, is that there is still hope for us to enact common-sense legislation for guns. Maybe it won’t be tomorrow — it might not even be within the coming year — but if we continue to ratchet up the pressure on our officials and suggest how to fix this problem, we can ensure that fewer individuals die from gun shootings and that kids can go to school believing in the safety of their learning community.

Ian Leach can be reached at ileach@umich.edu.