We Can Do This, Right?
Every time a school shooting happens, I end up reaching out to the same person for help in processing it, and at this point, 80+ school shootings since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which my mother survived, I basically have a modus operandi in my reaction.
I have an emotional breakdown, I go on about not understanding how we allow this to happen over and over again, how so many people turn the other way. I get angry at the NRA’s political power and organizational infrastructure, and at members of Congress who play by its book. I want to give up because it’s all been said, the stories have been told, and we have tried. Why hasn’t everything changed?
Yesterday, on September 30th, there were two school shootings. One in North Carolina, and one in Kentucky. I was in class all day, and the notification on my phone that I looked at after class was regarding the second. As the daughter of a gun violence survivor and as a student in her first semester in college, this more than rattled me.
It’s only barely October. The school year has barely started, and this year is already looking like a bad one for safety.
What a statement to so accurately depict the state of America right now. Shootings rarely trend on Twitter anymore, and if they do, it’s for an hour or two at most. I used to be against the idea that this is becoming normalized in the U.S. because I didn’t want to believe it; I thought we were better than that. I thought we could resist it.
But at this point, I have to admit that we are alone in this normalization, compared to all other developed countries in the world. If these two school shootings happened in another country, it would be breaking news. Everyone would stop, would cry, would pray, would ask how this happened, would take action. And what would our reaction be? Would we condemn the systems that allowed it to happen in their country? Would we pity them for letting a dangerous person slip through the cracks? If another first-world country had 30,000 gun deaths a year, would we call it a war zone or uncivilized? Would we call it a public safety issue? Would we self-reflect?
We should be reflecting right now, because this didn’t happen in another country. It happened here, and it only happens here.
So then, the person I reach out to puts things into perspective for me, and she places our situation and where we are at in a historic context as compared to other social and political movements. Perhaps what happened in my town on 12/14/2012 was the Stonewall riots of gun reform. Perhaps it was the major turning point, but it will still take a grassroots and organizational movement for 30 years following it to see real change.
Perhaps there is something about 30 years in American movements. Whether LGBT activism, the civil rights movement leading up to its climax in the 60s, or even the NRA that has become so extremist in the last 30 years, there seems to be a pattern of time that it takes real systemic change to occur in our country.
For 30 years, the National Rifle Association had almost no opposition, and certainly nothing with the same power. For 30 years, their economic, political, and cultural impact has swelled, and now we are finally, for the first time in those three decades, seeing a true pushback. Guns were not a real issue three years ago, and it was certainly not one to be brought up in debates or to be mentioned in campaign platforms; it was the third rail of politics.
Not only are we building a movement right now, but we are reversing the largest political power of our time.
At the end of my conversation with the person I typically reach out to in the aftermath of a shooting, I realized yesterday that I always end the same. I ask, “We can do this, right?” I know she is going to say yes, and I know she believes it’s true. Yet every time, I still ask.
Today, her answer was, “Yes we can! Small wins!” And right at that moment, I received an email that Governor Brown of California signed into law the Gun Violence Restraining Order legislation proposed after the UCSB shooting this spring. Three years ago, that would not have passed. Three years ago, our pressure and organization on the ground would not have been there. Three years ago, this would have been impossible.
All I want in this is to look back 30 years from today and be able to think, “Wow, remember when we were faced with an epidemic of gun violence? Remember when this organization called the National Rifle Association terrorized our country for years? I’m so glad people stood up against that.”
Our 30 years started with 12/14/2012, and I look forward to the day when I can tell my children the story about when a coalition of brave Americans said, “we can do this.”