I went to Broward County at the invitation of our colleagues there. There was no speech to give. No press conference. No interviews. There was just disbelief and pain and the need to have a human heart hear of the hurt and hold each other.
This hurt is now too familiar. Only weeks earlier our colleagues at Marshall County High School in Kentucky mourned two of their students killed by a 15-year old shooter who left fourteen others wounded and all traumatized perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Ten were left dead at Umpqua Community College in Washington state. Twenty-eight babies and their teachers shot down at Sandy Hook. Thirty-three died when one shooter opened fire at Virginia Tech. To the growing list the mass killings in the United States by a lone shooter, we now include a concert in Las Vegas; a movie theater in Colorado; a nightclub in Orlando; a fast food restaurant in Killeen; a Sunday church service in Texas; a Bible study group in Charleston; a medical waiting room for soldiers at Ft. Hood; an office Christmas party in San Bernadino…
Worse than silent. They offered empty thoughts and prayers. And nothing else. Nothing that would restrict the manufacturer or sale of these weapons.
The outpouring of grief and anger and activism for Stoneman Douglas High School’s shooting is not only for those directly impacted by the tragedy. It is that such a tragedy in our country is now our normal. It is that one more place was added to such an unimaginably long and senseless list of heartbreak. But more, it is that the response of politicians who could have done something about the easy access of the most dangerous, high capacity, rapid fire weapons by dangerous individuals were silent.
Worse than silent. They offered empty thoughts and prayers. And nothing else. Nothing that would restrict the manufacturer or sale of these weapons. They made vague mentions of better mental health care – a cynical call since many of those same politicians are gutting those benefits from the Affordable Care Act.
They always offer the old standard Plan B: that we just have to better prepare for the next tragedy. They’ve suggested we should use school funds to purchase guns instead of books and distribute pistols to teachers who would be locked-and-loaded and ready to take out the next shooter before he killed too many children.
They want us to believe that there is nothing that will prevent the next tragedy. They want to distract us and convince us that our only choice is to prepare to minimize the deaths when the next shooter begins spraying the next school or church or concert with bullets. They want us to call that victory.
We will not play that game. We demand a plan that will keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. We now know that it is up to communities, families, activists, educators, and the students themselves to stand up and demand that those who are charged with protecting them do their jobs.
Other countries have people with mental health illnesses. Other countries have people who watch violent movies and play violent video games and post violent social media. Other countries have people who murder. But our country stands as the disturbing outlier.
Only the United States has such a long, long, long list of mass public murders by a lone gunman. The reason is simple.
Our laws allow dangerous people to easily purchase military-style, rapid-fire assault weapons. That’s the only difference. That’s what we need to fix.
Thoughts and prayers will not prevent the next tragedy. People rising up will.
Please join un in local and nationwide action for the National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools on April 20, 2018.
Lily Eskelsen García is President of the National Education Association.
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