There are a lot of things we had to do as children that our own kids will never do: thumbing through the encyclopedia for school reports, being tethered to the wall by a phone cord, or — gasp! — living without the internet. In many ways, life for them is easier than it was for us.
But there's one thing that today's kids deal with that we didn't, and it's much more horrifying than a technology-free existence. Because in addition to knowing what to do if they're at school during a tornado or an earthquake or a fire, they have to know what to do in the event that a person comes in shooting. Let that sink in for a moment. Our babies — your babies — are growing up in a country where gun violence is so prevalent that they need to know what to do if someone's trying to kill them.
In December 2012, Newtown, CT, and the rest of the world were shaken when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire, leaving 20 children and six adults dead in his wake. That morning, the families of those victims kissed them goodbye as usual, fully expecting to see them after school — but by that time, they would be dead.
Most recently, concertgoers in Las Vegas became the unwitting targets of the deadliest attack on US soil since 9/11. Fifty-eight people lost their lives and hundreds more were injured when a man sprayed a hail of bullets into the crowd using semiautomatic weapons fitted with bump stocks — devices that allow guns to fire at a more rapid pace, mimicking the capabilities of a fully automatic weapon.
Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Virginia Tech. San Bernardino. Columbine. Fort Hood. Aurora. Charleston. And those are just a few of the mass shootings that have taken place in the last few years, the most easily recognizable by name, but there are many more that didn't make quite as big a ripple in the media. And that's saying nothing of the other incidents of gun violence: according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit corporation that collects and validates incidents and crimes from 2,500 sources daily, there have been 48,069 so far this year alone — and that doesn't include the 22,000 annual suicides. Another disturbing fact? The United States makes up less than five percent of the world's population but holds 31 percent of global mass shooters.
Although more of our citizens — and our kids — fall prey to gun violence and the threat of it, lawmakers at every level continue to ensure there's ridiculously easy access to weapons that no average citizen should ever get their hands on, period. I'm not proposing the collection and destruction of every single gun everywhere — only the ones that serve literally zero purpose beyond carnage. Consider this: after a mass shooting in the mid-'90s, the Australian government banned all semiautomatic weapons . . . and there hasn't been a mass shooting since.
Nobody needs a semiautomatic weapon for the purposes of hunting or self-defense, and the fact that these killing machines are as accessible as they are to anyone speaks volumes. The Republican party, which currently controls the White House and Congress, is heavily influenced by the endless coffers of the wealthy and powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) — in direct opposition to even the most common-sense gun regulation. Those who have the money have the say in this administration. And as long as our lawmakers value funding above humanity, and we the people sit back in complicit silence, nothing will change; we just wait for the next slaughter and hope nobody we love is caught in the firestorm.
And as long as our lawmakers value funding above humanity, and we the people sit back in complicit silence, nothing will change; we just wait for the next slaughter and hope nobody we love is caught in the firestorm.
I get it. We feel so far removed from it sometimes; it seems like it could never really happen where we live. But the parents of Sandy Hook and the concertgoers in Vegas were no different, and neither was everybody else in every incident of gun violence ever. They were normal people, doing what they normally did. If they'd had one inkling, one iota of a clue that something like this would happen, the stories would be vastly different. We can't settle comfortably into the "it'll never happen to me" mindset — because even if it doesn't happen to us, it will happen to others, and that's bad enough. Every victim is someone's child, someone's spouse, someone's brother or sister or friend.
Thoughts and prayers, we say automatically, our collective knee-jerk reaction when senseless tragedies strike. But thoughts and prayers aren't cutting it, people. The only way we can enact change is to change things ourselves, and that involves speaking up and getting forceful. We're talking about the safety of our families here, our ability to attend concerts (and freaking school) without fear of being mowed down by someone with a vendetta and a semiautomatic. Lives depend on our willingness to move past simply thinking and praying and act instead.
I want my kids to live in a world where active-shooter drills aren't a thing, where they can go about their everyday lives without the looming threat of being the next victims. I want to look into their eyes and tell them that I didn't sit back and bemoan our country's rampant gun violence; that I fought to change things, not just for their sake, but for the sake of generations to follow.
If you'd like to join the fight for common-sense gun laws and a safer America for our kids, check out Moms Demand Action — a valuable resource for facts, statistics, and things that you can do right now to help.