At times, it feels as though the gun control debate ended in 2012 when our nation decided the murder of 20 little kids was a tolerable casualty of protecting the Second Amendment.
You’ll often hear rhetoric during these moments telling traumatized parents, students, club-goers, grocery shoppers and organizers not to “politicize” a moment of national grief. It’s a talking point that has delayed progress on these issues for decades and cost thousands of lives. But our country sometimes faces more than one mass shooting each day, so we don’t have the luxury of waiting for a lull in the gunfire to talk about gun control. Every tragedy should be a springboard for political action.
While many of us relive the trauma of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School every time another mass shooting occurs, the similarities present with the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed, made this one hit differently in Connecticut.
That the majority of the children killed in Uvalde weren’t alive during Sandy Hook is a piece of tragic irony. But we’ve had 10 years to avoid those deaths, and that’s only if you start the clock on December 14, 2012. There have been more than 3,500 mass shootings since that day, (depending on your definition of “mass shooting”). This year alone, we have seen more than 200 mass shootings around the country. Uvalde stands as one of the latest in that count.
Let’s break that down.
That means so far this year, our country has faced about 46 mass shootings a month — more shootings than days. The number of deaths is harder to track in real-time, numerous as they are. But during 2021, Everytown for Gun Safety reports that 136 people were killed and 30 injured in mass shootings (defining a mass shooting as four or more people killed with a firearm). Their count is on the low end. On the high end, Mass Shooting Tracker reports 920 people killed and 3,141 injured. Aljazeera noted that a lack of consensus on a definition means there isn’t consensus on these numbers.
According to a recent study, published in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, mass shootings in the U.S. account for 73% of all gun incidents and 62% of all gun fatalities in developed countries. Yet somehow we still entertain arguments about the need for gun control.
Every victim and survivor of one of these shootings is unwittingly inducted into a not-so-exclusive club of nationwide mourners whose grief is triggered by the next shooting — and the next, and the next, and the next.
Mary Ann Jacob, a Sandy Hook survivor who now spends her time supporting the organizing work of Everytown for Gun Control, says the debate is far from over.
“Everytown, Sandy Hook Promise, and Newtown National Alliance and all of our partners in the gun violence and prevention movement have been working actively to do everything we can,” she said. “It’s been very active, and we’ve made a lot of progress in a number of states over the years. We’re lucky to have leaders who support this work in Connecticut, so it might not be as obvious here, but there’s a lot going on in a lot of places.”
That progress is measured by shifting sentiments about red flag laws and background checks around the country. It also looks like organizing and lobbying on what Everytown calls “gun sense legislation.”
Most recently, that progress looks like U.S. senators reaching a bipartisan gun control deal less than a month after Uvalde. While it doesn’t ban assault weapons or raise the legal age to purchase a firearm, it’s the largest break in a decades-long stalemate on the gun issue.
Everytown has compiled research that shows the correlation between gun policy and reduced gun violence. According to its website, “When we compare the states head-to-head on the top 50 gun safety policies, a clear pattern emerges. States with strong laws see less gun violence. Indeed, the 13 states that have failed to put basic protections into place — “national failures” on our scale — have nearly three times as many gun deaths as the eight national gun safety leaders.”
Similarly, José Alfaro, Director of Latinx Leadership and Engagement at Everytown for Gun Safety, says the work is only just beginning.
Alfaro was one of Everytown’s early response organizers to Uvalde. Across the country, he says these incidents happen far too often in communities that have pre-existing compounding disparities.
“The people in Uvalde are in mourning, a community already impacted by a number of systemic barriers,” he said. “This tragedy also deeply impacted Latinx communities across the United States. Our communities are still in shock, and we are taking our time to grieve and move into action because gun violence is a Latinx issue.”
Having spent a number of years working on education advocacy in Connecticut, Alfaro knows the landscape, the state’s culture and problems, and he understands the pain that the massacre at Sandy Hook caused people living here.
“As I process all of this, it resonates deeply because my wife is from Connecticut,” he said. “People are traumatized and will remember this for the rest of their lives. You have communities that are impacted by collective traumas, and oftentimes people don’t have the resources to get the mental and emotional support they need to treat that trauma.”
It’s easy to become jaded about the slow progress on gun control.
I, like so many others, have fielded questions from the young people in my life about why or how this could have happened yet again. My in-laws — gun-slinging, pro-life Montanans — often find themselves quiet during the news cycles about endless mass shootings in the cities, not quite sure how to reconcile the dissonance of their beliefs with the growing pile of victims. The issue, I think, is that they don’t know any survivors of mass shootings — although Everytown has Montana ranked as a “national failure” when it comes to gun violence. They don’t feel that stab of pain every time another life is lost or a classroom of children is slaughtered.
While Montanans might not feel a kinship with Uvalde on the basis of trauma, Connecticut residents aren’t so lucky.
“From a survivor perspective, any time we see a community that has to go down the same path of loss that we’ve gone down, it’s painful,” Jacob said. “I think Uvalde in particular because of how similar it was to our experience here in Connecticut, it hit particularly hard … My therapist said to me once, many years ago, ‘It’s the tragedy after the tragedy,’ and as a nation, we’re ill-prepared to deal with these tragedies.”
Jacob’s talk with me, measured and somber as it was, reminded me that hope exists in the moments when people find the will to stay the course and act even after facing the news of yet another massacre.
“I think I would like your readers to know that they should do more than empathize with Uvalde,” she said. “We have enough thoughts, prayers and love. What we need is action.”
“These moments really created the space for people to start realizing we need to do something and gave way to new activists joining the movement,” Alfaro said. “Now, we’re getting ready to engage at the highest level. We’re mobilizing our communities and our base, and we’re hoping to utilize this moment to pass gun sense legislation.”
It’s time to put the rhetoric aside and accept that this is a political issue. If the death of 19 more children doesn’t make it political for you, it might be worth examining your politics.
To learn more about Everytown and Moms Demand Action, text BOLD to 64433.