There is a terrifying epidemic raging across our country. Over the past five years, more than 1,800 Americans have died and nearly 7,000 have been injured in mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter). There have been 1,624 such shootings—mass carnage on average nine out of every ten days. The Parkland, Florida, school shooting is only one of the latest in a depressing series of bloody events.
We, as concerned citizens, must re-frame the gun debate not as a political, or as Republican versus Democrat, but rather as a public health concern. In 1982, seven people died when a criminal added poison to bottles of Tylenol. Eight bottles were found to be poisoned. Yet, it changed a whole industry with tamper-resistant packaging. Seven deaths. How many kids and teachers need to die before real changes are made regarding guns?
It is not just the murders that are horrific. As attorneys working on behalf of the disabled, we have seen firsthand and far too many times the devastating impact that gun injuries have on the human body, and the years and decades of suffering that result. We work with the law every day, and we support the Constitution, including the second amendment. However, we believe that there should be a balance between the rights of gun owners and the protection of our citizens. Change in this country with regard to the way it deals with gun violence is way overdue. We must decide what kind of country want.
To begin with, in addition to effective law enforcement, we need a public health system that detects early warning signs and takes action beforehand to prevent mass shootings. Every day health professionals all over the world are doing this kind of early detection and prevention work for the flu, Ebola, AIDS and other serious health issues. To start with, we need to better understand the problem. We need to research gun violence just like we research every other public health problem. Currently, there is almost no research underway on this topic. The reason for this lack of research can be traced back to 1996, when Congress passed an amendment to a spending bill that barred the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using their funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The bill also lowered the CDC’s budget by the exact amount they were spending on gun violence research. The National Rifle Association (NRA) pushed for the amendment.
The American people have never had a special lobby to offer a view different from the NRA of a “constitutional right” to automatic weapons. One of the young Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school survivor students fighting such an uphill battle against the politicians and the NRA is Emma Gonzalez. She started with about 100 followers on Twitter, and within two weeks of the horrific mass shooting, gathered several hundred thousand followers. Emma now has more Twitter followers than the NRA itself! The individual in the automatic weapon and background check national debate who has long had the greatest number of followers, the NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, has about 782,000 followers. But never underestimate the power of middle-class American teenagers in an online social media war—they will own that battlefield. In fact, now Emma has over one million followers, more than the powerful slick NRA spokesperson! Go, Emma, go, I say.
If we believe that we want a country where our children do not have to fear being shot to death when they go to school, then what else has to change is for us to stand up and say “enough is enough.” On March 24th, Americans across the country will descend on Washington and cities all across the country (including Chicago) to demand gun law
reform in the “March for Our Lives,” As March for Our Lives Chicago posted on Facebook: “On March 24th we will march for the change that is decades overdue. The lack of gun reform has left too many of our classmates dead. It’s time for change. March with us.” The March for Our Lives will be held March 24th, 2018 at 11:00 am CST, at Grant Park in Downtown Chicago. You can follow this Facebook page Facebook.com/marchfolchi for more information.
It is said that the power of the NRA is not just its lobby and its money, but the fact that its members are very reliable voters for their position. So will Emma and her friends vote? Will you mobilize your friends and family and vote in November? Will your family members vote, especially the younger ones? (If you are 17 years old and will turn 18 before the next election, you can register to vote now.) Our representatives—Peter Roskam, Randy Hultgren, and Adam Kinzinger —each get an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association which is their stamp of approval. We need much more from our political leaders than “thoughts and prayers.” We need real solutions to staunch the carnage. I urge you to vote all three of these men out of office. Here is how Illinois’ members of Congress have voted recently regarding gun restrictions:
On our Twitter feed at @nashssdilaw you will find more information about this issue, updates on the March for Our Lives, and a spirited discussion about gun laws. I invite you to join in the discussion.