How can inaction continue to be an option in the face of senselessness and intolerance fueled by guns? We must act to save our country’s soul and the lives of our people – all of our people.
The June 12 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was both our nation’s worst act of terrorism since 9/11 and a hate crime. In that, it was all too common: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are too-likely targets of hate crimes in America. A large number of victims were gay people of color who were celebrating Latin Night in what many said they trusted and believed was a desperately needed “safe space.”
Seen this before
But as we have seen over and over again, America is running out of safe spaces. Not Pulse. Not Bible study at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. Not an office holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. Not a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Not a dorm or university hall at Virginia Tech. And not a first grade classroom in Newtown, Conn., in a country where hate, bigotry, terrorism, and mental illness collide with unfettered access to these weapons of war that leave us with no hiding spaces – unless we do something now.
Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy couldn’t face the families of the children of Sandy Hook unless he did something. The Senate filibuster he led in the aftermath of the Orlando slaughter lasted for more than 14 hours before there was bipartisan agreement to allow a vote on two common-sense amendments that would make all of us and our nation safer.
Creating a “No Buy List” so that the more than 800,000 people on our terror watch lists cannot legally buy guns in America should be an easy decision for all of us. Closing the loopholes in existing background checks to reach sales at gun shows and through the Internet to keep more criminals, would-be terrorists, and others from buying guns should be another easy decision.
The evidence is clear that expanded background checks work. A recent study found that a Connecticut law that expanded background checks on all handgun purchases helped achieve a 40 percent reduction in gun homicides during the first 10 years following the law’s enactment. These are measures the majority of Americans strongly support – and it’s long past time that Congress followed the will of the people instead of the will of the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers whose profits are soaked in the blood of our people.
The majority of Americans also support reinstating the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that have been used time and time again. Why should it be perfectly legal to buy an AR-15 in a Five Guys parking lot in Vermont the day after the massacre at Pulse with no background check and no paperwork at all? Weapons designed for war are now as easy to buy as a loaf of bread.
Since 1963, more than 176,000 children have died from gun violence in America – more than three times more than all the soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam War and every external conflict since.
A right to live
Our children have a right to grow up in a caring and decent society that protects their right to live and learn in safety. That right must take precedence over anyone’s right to own assault weapons or high-capacity magazines that have nothing to do with self-defense or hunting and have no place in the hands of non-military and non-law enforcement personnel. Without these weapons of war how many would be alive today? How many Newtown or Aurora or Orlando victims would have survived?
Our children are afraid for their friends, their families, and themselves. And this needs to change.
We all need to stand up until we are heard and laws are changed. Contact your Senators right now to urge them to support these common-sense safety solutions all of us so desperately need.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (www.childrensdefense.org).