America’s gun violence is not inevitable

Can Americans stop this heartbreak?
Can Americans stop this heartbreak?
Image: Reuters/Marco Bello
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I shouldn’t be writing this. Shouldn’t be writing it because my eyes are still red, my stomach still a pit. Shouldn’t be writing because I have no special claim to this latest mass shooting other than being a heartbroken mother in America.

When I got the first news alert of the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the photos of Sandy Hook first graders flashed through my mind, their beautiful smiles—teeth missing, just like my oldest. I was in the newsroom when Newtown happened; I sent those alerts.

The first major mass shooting I helped cover as a journalist was Virginia Tech, but so many happened since and they all seemed to follow the same hellish script. Sandy Hook, it briefly seemed, would be different. Americans would not stand for 6-year-olds being gunned down. It turned out, Americans would not stand—they would roll over. Or, at least, their lawmakers would, unable to pass any of the legislation supported by the public.

After a decade of inaction on guns, many despair that this is America’s destiny—that mass shootings are now an inevitable part of growing up. Lobbyists and politicians who care more about winning than fixing this failure would have you believe that Americans’ views on guns are irreconcilable: All Democrats want to take your guns and all Republicans want AR-15s.

It’s not true. It’s not the public that can’t agree. Background checks, tracking gun sales, banning assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines are all supported by a healthy majority.

Seventy percent of Republicans favor making private and gun show sales subject to background checks, something 92% of Democrats support, according to a 2021 survey by Pew Research Center. Among Republican non-gun owners, more than half favor banning assault-style weapons. In 2017, nearly half of Republican gun owners felt the same, though that number has decreased in the past five years as polarization has increased.

Yet even agreed upon measures to curb gun violence have not been passed. This cannot be.

The gun debate is stalling action

After each mass shooting, the accusations of politicization seem to be flung faster than words of compassion and last longer than calls for solutions. Statements are all too well rehearsed.

But before getting in a fight, ask your loved ones—ask yourself—what did you feel when you heard the news? Not the first thing you posted on Twitter to make clear what “side” you’re on, but that very first feeling in your gut? If you tell me it was anything but the deepest sorrow, the sickest grief, I will not believe you.

People hug outside Robb Elementary School, the scene of a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, U.S.
Mourning in Uvalde.
Image: Reuters/Nuri Vallbona

We can and should share in mourning. We can and should share in efforts to protect the most vulnerable from such horrific violence. There should be nothing partisan or ideological about the refusal to keep losing our grandparents in grocery aisles and our children in classrooms and our fathers in kitchen table suicides.

If you are sharing words about this man-made tragedy and those words focus on anything other than how to honor the 21 souls in Uvalde or how to prevent the deaths of more innocent lives, please stop.

Whoever is in your head making you dig in, whoever equated compromise with losing, think instead of a child you’ve loved. Think of what we owe them, what they deserve—at the very least, a life.

We are not powerless against gun violence

When I learned the death toll in Uvalde, I stopped breathing. I had to leave the room so I could weep without my youngest witnessing. I must shield her from this, I thought, if only I could shield her from this.

How can this keep happening with no revolt? When too many lives were lost to car accidents, we required seat belts. When lung cancer hit a peak, we taxed cigarettes. We did not accept those deaths; we cannot accept these.

A woman and a childarrive to Robb Elementary school with flowers, the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at the school in Uvalde, Texas
American children need more than condolences.
Image: Reuters/Marco Bello

We can elect legislators with backbones. We can call on and call out the ones who defy the public’s interests. We can invest in schools and mental health resources. We can embrace reason with each other and teach our children empathy by example. Action is the only option. Because this can’t be it.

I shouldn’t be writing this because of Sandy Hook and Parkland and Buffalo and Las Vegas. I shouldn’t be writing this, because it should never have happened. Not again.