Meet Emily Kesselman, a High School Senior who feels passionately about the need for gun control and who organized a walkout at her own school on March 14th.***BREAKING NEWS: There has been a shooting in Blank Town, Blank State. Blank people confirmed dead, blank injured. Shooter in custody.***
Too many days out of the year, Americans have turned on their TVs to see this same heartbreaking message across the banners of every news channel. The sad thing is, this common occurrence is a truly American phenomenon. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that the gun homicide rates in the US are 25.2 times higher than in other high-income countries. Those with the lowest gun homicide rates include Japan, the UK, and Australia, all of which provide long-term models of how to reduce gun violence through stronger legislation and stricter requirements on gun ownership. My personal favorite is Australia, mainly because of how they implemented such widespread reform and had not had a mass shooting since, the only exception being on May 13, 2018, when a grandfather killed his wife, daughter, and four grandchildren in their home. On April 28, 1996, a man used an AR-15 to kill 35 people and wound 18 others at a popular tourist spot in Port Arthur, Australia. Less than a month later, the Australian government banned semi-automatic and military style guns and their import. They also implemented a nationwide gun buyback program and have since seen a decrease in suicide and gun related death rates.
In the US, an average of 96 people die from gun-related injuries every day. Most agree that the gun violence epidemic began in 1999 when two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The nation has since demanded gun legislation reform, only to live through shooting after shooting and very little change from lawmakers. So why, if so many people are being killed by dangerous weapons, has fixing the problem proved to be so difficult?
The short answer: The Second Amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
While there are many interpretations, what this single sentence boils down to is an American’s right to own a gun. The question is, at what point does one’s right to bear arms no longer apply? Pro-gun activists cite hunting, protection, and hobbies as reasons for owning a gun. This includes the largest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association. The NRA was founded in 1871 and has since grown to over five million members. They fight for the right to own not just guns, but any kind of gun and any number of them. The non-profit organization plays an astonishingly large role in our government. In 2017 alone, the NRA spent an estimated $5.1 million on lobbying, which includes donations to politicians and election campaigns. All of these donations are legal.
Following the February 14th shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were shot and killed, students have stood up and demanded change. On February 21st, one week after their peers were killed, students from MSD confronted NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and Florida State Senator Marco Rubio, who has taken thousands of dollars from the NRA over the course of his political career. Since this CNN Town Hall, a nationwide movement has sparked, dubbed “March for Our Lives” after the march on Washington, D.C. on March 24th, led by the Parkland students. The basic tenets of the organization call for “universal, comprehensive background checks, bringing the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] into the 21st century with a digitized, searchable database, funds for the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America, high-capacity magazine ban, assault weapons ban”.
Let me break those down and explain why there is a need for them. Background checks have been mandatory in all 50 states since 1993 due to a law called The Brady Act. However, there are loopholes regarding “private sales”—as in, a friend selling to a friend—and gun shows. Additionally, many gun stores neglect the law and do not perform background checks.
The result is that from 2015 to 2017, 22% of American gun owners who had obtained a gun did not undergo a background check before doing so, according to a study by Northeastern University and the Harvard School of Public Health.
A universal, comprehensive background check would mean that regardless of where or from who someone is purchasing a gun, a background check through all criminal and government databases will be conducted before they can leave with a gun. One of these databases is the ATF’s, which would make a tracking system for all gun sales so that a serial number from a gun can be used to track ownership and sale of a gun. This would allow any gun used in a crime to be easily and quickly identified in the context of where it came from and who it legally belongs to.
The CDC does thorough research on epidemics and widespread dangers to American society. Currently, the CDC receives no funding to research the epidemic of gun violence. With funding, they would be able to hire a focused team that would conduct surveys, studies, and other research on just how and where Americans are affected by gun violence. Currently, this information is available from the CDC on the flu, measles, and even motor vehicle risks. But there has yet to be funding for research on gun violence.
The last and possibly the most difficult demands of the March for Our Lives movement are a high-capacity magazine ban and an assault weapons ban. A high-capacity magazine shoots more than ten rounds, essentially meaning more than ten bullets, before reloading. The MFOL website asserts that their only purpose is to shoot as many bullets as possible in as little time as possible and that they are too devastating. In a 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban that is no longer in effect, an assault weapon was defined as “semi- automatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use”. Many gun control advocates see these only as weapons of war and unfit for civilian use. The assault weapons ban has been one of the core demands of the gun control movement for years, and continues to lie at the front of their demands since September of 2004 when the 1994 legislation retired. The fact is that an assault weapon has been used in every deadly mass shooting since 1999, and they have absolutely no place in the hands of ‘regular’ Americans.
When talking about gun violence and gun control, it is important to stress that the majority of gun control advocates are in no way trying to take away the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Americans. Personally, I do not understand why anyone may need a gun for anything other than hunting for sport—which, I might add, does not require military style weapons— but I have no problem with someone owning a gun who has passed a background check, taken training courses, and maintains proper storage of their weapon and ammunition. The problem for me is when people who are convicted or accused of domestic violence, have had a restraining order taken out against them, or are awaiting trial for a violent crime, are able to obtain guns. I do have friends whose dads own guns in case of an intruder, and they keep them locked up safely away from their children. I asked my friends and their parents and interestingly, none of them have ever used their guns. However, they are all law abiding citizens who, under the Second Amendment, are legally allowed to have their guns. I am not trying to take away their guns, gun control advocates are not trying to take their guns, and The March for Our Lives is not trying to take their guns.
Though the March for Our Lives movement is highly organized, we must remember that these are teens, many of them the same age or younger than me. What is amazing about today’s political climate is that children are acting like adults and adults are acting like children. With politicians taking bribes in exchange for their silence in the face of the gun violence epidemic the way a toddler takes a pacifier to stop crying, the blatant immaturity in our government is sickening. But as this happens, students as young as eight years old are sticking up for their beliefs and acting with the maturity that our politicians won’t. The cool thing: you can act too.
I took a stand by organizing a walk out at my high school on March 14th to memorialize the victims of the Parkland shooting and show a united, schoolwide demand for empathy, compassion, and a change in gun legislation from all ends of the political spectrum. You can organize something at your school too. Partner with National School Walkout or Everytown for Gun Safety to create a local chapter or encourage your mother to attend a local Moms Demand Action meeting. I live in Connecticut and serve on the board of Connecticut Teens Against Gun Violence— the youth branch of Connecticut Against Gun Violence. You can reach out to similar organizations in your state or area. Believe me, we at CTTAGV love when students reach out with support, ideas, or questions. You can also donate money to the aforementioned organizations or attend events listed on their websites and social media pages. If you feel as if your school can do more to protect its students via education or resource officers, you can schedule a meeting with your principal or school climate officers to talk about the measures your school has been taking to protect its students.
In local and national politics, you can write a letter to and/or call your state representatives and encourage them to support safer gun legislation. Since laws differ greatly by state, you can visit www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/ and click on your state to see a breakdown of the laws specific to your state. The reason this is important is because not only does gun violence affect schools and other major public places (i.e.,movie theaters and malls), but it disproportionately affects women and people of color. American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a firearm than women in any other developed nation, and a majority (93%) of those who are murdered knew their killer—according to the 2015 study by the Violence Policy Center. In fact, a woman in the U.S. is fatally shot by her current or former intimate partner every 16 hours. For women of color, the rate of homicide by firearm is more than double. As feminists, we have a duty to be intersectional and support people from all backgrounds and races and their right to live in a world free of gun violence.
Don’t hesitate to act today and make a change for what you believe in, whether it be gun violence or women’s health. The future of our country and our world is in the hands of our generation now and we must stand up to say
VOICES DEMANDING CHANGE
Emma González is a high school senior and survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th, 2018. Following the shooting, González co-founded a gun control advocacy group a called Never Again MSD. She first came to national prominence at a rally shortly after the shooting where she repeatedly said “We call B.S.” in response to the inaction of politicians who were being funded by the NRA. She became a powerful voice in the youth movement calling for gun control. In a moving speech at at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on March 24th, González stood in silence for six minutes, the total amount of time the shooting at her school had lasted, honoring her classmates who had died.
Naomi Wadler was just 11 years old when she took to the podium at the March for Our Lives in D.C. Wadler spoke out for black women and girls, everywhere. Black women, she said, are disproportionately represented among victims of gun violence. She was there to give them a voice. Despite still being in elementary school, Wadler and a friend had organized their own walkout at the school in order to honor those killed in the Parkland shooting. Instead of walking out for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim of the Parkland shooting, Wadler’s walkout was for 18 minutes. The final minute being to honor the life of a black girl name Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old who was shot to death at her high school in Alabama on March 7th.
YOLANDA RENEE KING
Nine-year-old King, grandaughter of civil rights champion, Martin Luther King Jr., also spoke at the March for Our Lives. She said “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Karli Williams
ABOUT STRONG MAGAZINE
This piece was originally published in STRONG, a new magazine aimed at tween and teenaged girls that seeks to break the mold. While many other publications for this age group focus on celebrities, STRONG focuses on real girls with diverse interests. While other publications focus on body image and fashion, STRONG focuses on keeping a healthy body and mind. STRONG also presents great role models - girls who have overcome adversity and thrived, and women who are breaking glass ceilings in areas previously dominated by men. Visit www.strongmagazineforgirls.com to learn more.