Why 'thoughts and prayers' aren’t enough
Our collective memory is plagued with places and dates — Columbine, April, 20, 1999; Sandy Hook, Dec.14, 2012; Orlando, Jun. 12, 2016; Parkland, Feb.14, 2018; Atlanta, Mar. 17, 2021; Boulder, Mar. 22, 2021 — the list goes on. Each mass shooting jerks our memories back to the previous killings and empty promises made by politicians — now is the time for change.
In 2018, after another mass shooting in Parkland, FL, students took the lead on this urgent national conversation. Survivors founded March for Our Lives, which, thanks to a widespread social media presence, mobilized millions of high school students around the country to protest these preventable killings. Only common-sense gun legislation can bring an end to these mass tragedies. Students Demand Action, a national youth-led gun violence prevention organization, was born from these student-led efforts after the Parkland shooting and soon became a branch of Everytown for Gun Safety. Today, Students Demand Action exists in many high schools and college campuses, including our very own Brandeis University.
As Brandeis Students Demand Action executive board members, college presents an eye-opening experience in learning about the intricacies of the national political landscape. In high school, we were told to wait until the right officials are in power to make a difference. Now we understand that legislative change is not a simple feat.
Mass shootings energize political passions in the moment, but months or years after the fact, that same passion begins to recede into people’s minds. Now, three years after the Parkland shooting, many students who were once impassioned by political action and change have lost hope among a polarized and slow-moving political system. As Brandeis students, we decided that we could help make a difference on campus, even if small, and started our own chapter of Students Demand Action.
We formed our club in Nov. 2019 and began e-board meetings the following semester. However, our action-based work was soon pushed to the side due to COVID-19. As news coverage was dominated by developments related to the pandemic, quarantine began to tamper with our activism. The hiatus of gun violence in the headlines gave many the misconception that COVID-19 cured the uniquely American gun epidemic. This assumption is far from correct. Quarantine did not squander the gun violence epidemic; rather, it exacerbated it.
According to the Washington Post, 2020 was the “deadliest gun violence year” in the United States. In 2020, over 44,000 Americans died because of gun violence. One mass shooting occurred every 73 days. From January 2021, over 4,127 people have fallen victim to gun violence.
Additionally, a record number of 23 million guns were purchased in 2020. Of the 23 million guns sold, eight million were purchased by new gun owners — a 64% increase as compared to 2019 numbers. While this number is staggering, it only accounts for gun purchases in which a background check was run. Gun purchases between private individuals and gun sales online or at gun shows are not included. This stark increase in gun purchases poses a grave threat to American lives.
The absence of gun violence from national headlines for the past few months does not indicate that the issues with guns in the United States have been solved. The mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder in March have proven that the systems upholding our safety are and continue to be broken. The perpetrator of the Atlanta shooting (as a club, we are specifically not naming the shooter’s name because it is the victims who should be known, not the perpetrator of these heinous acts) bought the gun the same day of the attack and proceeded to kill innocent people because he was “having a really bad day.” As the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board noted in their article, “there was no waiting period. There was no mandatory safety class.” Right now, there are no federal regulations that can hinder such impulsivity.
Currently, under federal law, unlicensed gun sellers can sell guns online and at certain gun shows without requiring the purchasers to undergo a background check. According to a recent study, almost 80% of firearms used for criminal purposes are obtained without a completed background check. Under federal law, people who fail background checks are those who have criminal records, are domestic abusers or face other charges. These are not people who should have the right to own a firearm.
HR-8, also known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, recently passed the House of Representatives on March 11. The bill closes the so-called ‘gun-show loophole’ by requiring all gun purchases to go through the federal background checks database.
Another bill, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, also passed on a bipartisan basis in the House on March 11 and closes the ‘Charleston loophole.’ Right now, when a gun seller submits a background check, the FBI has only three business days to complete the review. After three days, the gun sale goes through, no matter the results of the background check. This loophole allowed a gunman to kill nine parishioners at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015.
The 2021 legislative session was not the first time that HR-8 was brought to the floor in the House of Representatives. The same measure came up for a vote in the House in 2019 and passed. However, former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill up for a vote in the Senate. Now with a Democrat controlled legislative and executive branches, it is imperative that both of these bills pass and become law.
As students, we have been waiting for this moment. In the past year, we have educated our peers and phone banked on behalf of gun sense candidates in both the Senate and the House. While we worked hard to elect those we thought would represent our needs, our mission does not stop yet.
The recent shootings in Atlanta and Boulder remind us of the unfortunate game we toggle in American politics between trauma and action. As a collective, we need to push our legislators to stop profiting off our collective pain and instead work together to solve this national crisis.
Please join Brandeis Students Demand Action E-Board in calling for this much-needed change by calling your Senators today. To find a list of phone numbers, click here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm
Yael Perlman, President of BSDA
Gabriella Lieberman, Vice President of BSDA
Reena Zuckerman, Education Coordinator of BSDA
Sabrina Salov, Treasurer of BSDA
Saul Goldstein, Secretary of BSDA
If you are interested in getting involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our listserv. Follow us on Instagram @brandeissda and Facebook: Brandeis Students Demand Action.