I no longer care about being right or wrong. I no longer care about winning or losing. I no longer feel the burn of righteous indignation. I no longer care if you vote Republican or Democrat. I just want the violence to stop. I will beg. I will humble myself. I will reign in my snarky comments and dedicate myself to participating in conversations more respectfully. I just want the violence to stop. I want to stop seeing stories in the news about people being murdered in mass shootings and imagining the heart wrenching anguish their parents are going through. I want to think about my son going to kindergarten a year from now without thinking about him huddled in a corner practicing active shooter drills. I want Americans on both sides of the aisle to put aside their differences and work together for common sense compromises that minimize gun violence while preserving law abiding citizens’ right to firearms for hunting and self-protection.
Gun legislation is typically a trigger for me. Coming from a family that has been profoundly touched by gun violence, it’s one of those issues for which I’m usually willing to put myself out there, putting all of my passion and anger on the line in the hopes of getting just a single person to rethink their stance on common sense gun policies. So when my husband told me Sunday morning, before we even got out of bed, about the shooting at Orlando’s club Pulse, I expected my customary adrenaline-fueled fury. But it never came. Unlike my husband, all I can feel is sad.
I feel sad for the victims, most of whom were younger than I am, having their lives cut far too short and living their final moments in a state of pain and terror. I feel sad for their parents, families, and friends who now have to learn to navigate life without them and figure out a way to survive with the crushing weight of grief that never completely goes away. I feel sad for the community of Orlando, which is reeling with loss right now. I feel sad for the LGBTQ community, which has received a brutal reminder of the hatred that still remains directed at them. I feel sad for the Muslim American community, which must feel frustrated by this setback in getting people to look beyond stereotypes.
I think about this situation, and I just see a lot of grief and fear. And it makes me sad. Because I’ve seen first-hand the consequences of gun violence, and nobody deserves to feel that.
So what do we do?
First of all, we need to hold each other. Right now, in the aftermath of violence, we need to grieve together. You don’t need to physically hold someone if you’re not comfortable with that, but you need to reach out. We need to show support for each other, whether that’s patiently listening and holding space for someone while they process the horror of what took place, or hugging someone who is hurting and letting them know that you are hurting too. It might be crying together, praying together, or sharing a meal together.
And then, when the initial wave of grief is over . . . keep holding each other. Not necessarily because of the violence that took place early Sunday morning but because we’re human, and we all need to be held sometimes. The stronger, kinder, and more committed our communities are, the better equipped we’ll be to prevent and respond to violence. I really, truly believe that if we knew our neighbors better – if we didn’t all feel like we’re operating in our own little isolated worlds – our society would be a less violent place.
Then, when you’re ready, think about what common sense gun legislation would look like in our country and commit to making it happen. Let me be clear: I do not personally know a single person who advocates for taking hunting rifles or handguns away from law abiding citizens. However, there are some specific, concrete policies we could have in place to make us safer, and I don’t think these are partisan issues. For instance:
- If someone is a suspected terrorist and on the no-fly list, they probably shouldn’t have firearms.
- The average citizen does not need an assault rifle.
- If you want to buy a firearm, you should have a background check, regardless of where you buy it.
- People who are guilty of domestic abuse shouldn’t have firearms.
- Firearms should be stored safely where children cannot access and accidentally fire them.
Would common sense gun policies such as these totally eliminate gun violence? Absolutely not. But they would help. Especially the ban on assault rifles. It’s simply too easy for a shooter to kill dozens of people in minutes. This type of firearm is not required for hunting or personal protection. And if it’s no longer profitable for gun manufacturers to make them, then they won’t be around for the “bad guys” to get illegally.
I often hear the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. It’s true that people are responsible for using guns to end human life. So what causes people to act like that? I think it probably comes down to a couple of factors. One is mental health. Every single American citizen needs access to quality mental health care. Will that be expensive? Yes. But so is sending people to prison. I’d rather pay to prevent a tragedy than pay to punish someone after dozens of people are dead or injured. If we want to point our finger at mental health as a main culprit of mass shootings, that’s fine by me. But then we need to be willing to address it. And if we’re not, we need to be honest about the price tag we’re putting on human lives.
And then there are people who are broken. I don’t know why this happens. I’m sure every situation is unique: Abuse, bullying, loneliness. There isn’t a political answer here. Just love. We have all seen people who are having a bad day or a bad year, who are beaten down and think it can never get better. Reach out. Listen. Get them a cup of coffee. We have all seen someone get unfairly targeted by bullies at school or work. Stand up for them so they know they’re not alone. We have all seen people who are the victims of injustice. Be their witness or their advocate, whatever they need to get through.
And if you can’t find it in your heart to love a particular human being, at the very least you can respect him or her. Do you not understand how a man could be attracted to another man? Do you not understand why some Muslim women choose to wear a hijab? Do you not understand how someone could be a Minnesota Vikings fan? It would be great if you could practice empathy and try to put yourself in his or her place, but sometimes we’re not in the mental space to do that. At the very least, you can train yourself to notice when you’re feeling threatened or judgmental and have a phrase you go back to. Like, “That’s not my problem” or “That doesn’t have anything to do with me.” As long as the other person’s behavior is not hurting anyone, you can go about your business and refrain from being cruel. We’re not talking about anything heroic here; we’re talking about being an adult and a decent human being.
So where does that leave us now, in the wake of 103 casualties?
Step 1: Practice kindness. What can you do to hold the people around you, both now and in the future?
Step 3: Get informed. Check out the options available for firearm laws and decide which policies you are comfortable being a voice for. Decide if there are other issues that you think are connected – mental health, for example – and include those as part of the platform you want to advocate for.
Step 4: Contact your legislators. This website can help you find contact information for local, state, and federal representatives. Write them a letter and let them know that you are not OK with daily mass shootings. Let them know what types of gun control you would like them to support.
Step 5: Be an informed voter. Take candidates’ views on gun laws into account when you’re at the voting booth. It might not be your only or even your most important issue, but it should at least be considered.
Step 6: Get involved. There are already organizations doing good work to advocate for gun control. Americans for Responsible Solutions and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America both offer options for getting involved beyond the voting booth.
Finally, I’d like to encourage everyone reading this to look beyond gun laws as a partisan issue. Currently, there is a simplified narrative that goes something like this: “Republicans are pro-gun and Democrats are anti-gun.” I live in Wisconsin, where hunting is central to the state culture. I know both Republicans and Democrats who are responsible hunters. In fact, even my extremely liberal vegan husband is pro-hunting because it’s good for the environment. When we couch gun safety as a black-or-white issue, we miss the critical subtleties in this extremely complex issue and everyone ends up defensive and angry. If it seems like a step toward bipartisanship is too much to ask for, I encourage you to consider this quote:
“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” – Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan said this in 1989, shortly before my sixth birthday. In the grand scheme of things, this was not that long ago. Maybe, just maybe, instead of guns continually tearing us apart politically, they could be the topic that finally brings us back together. Maybe a genuine and humble search for a solution could connect us, once again, as fellow countrymen and women.