The future depends on courage today

Posted on Feb 27 2014 - 8:00am by Christine Dickason

Every 70 minutes an American under the age of 25 loses his or her life from gun violence. By 2015, gun violence will outrank car accidents as the leading cause of death for this group. This is horrifying, enraging and unnecessary.

I was honored to attend the #Fight4AFuture Gun Violence Prevention Summit last weekend, hosted by Generation Progress, the youth advocacy arm of the Center for American Progress. There were more than 100 participants, ranging from ages 16-29, representing 32 states. Hearing my fellow participants’ stories and witnessing their passion and motivation changed me.

I met Sarah Clements, daughter of a Sandy Hook survivor and founder of the Jr. Newtown Action Alliance. She hadn’t yet turned 18, but she is fighting every day to make our country safer. Her poise and determination make comments like, “you’re too young,” irrelevant.

I met Colin Goddard, whom I had first seen a year ago on Capitol Hill as the Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks. Colin was shot four times at Virginia Tech. His courage, kindness and mentorship inspire me.

I met Michael Skolnik, editor-in-chief of Global Grind, whose powerful speech addressing the differences in how society responds to the deaths of white and black children moved me to tears.

I met someone who had seen 28 of his friends and family killed by gunfire. He is 16 years old.

No one should witness that amount of violence in their entire life, much less before they reach adulthood. We’ve become good at reactive responses — candlelight vigils, 24/7 news coverage with lots of hand-wringing, wondering what went wrong. While these may be important in the healing process, they won’t reduce gun violence. We cannot wait until it affects us personally. We must become proactive. It’s time — past time — for responsible gun laws that will make our communities safer and protect the future of our country from the senseless violence that plagues our nation. While there isn’t one single answer to reducing gun violence, there are effective policies.

The gun lobby paints an apocalyptic scenario, in which government officials go door to door, confiscating all guns. This isn’t even close to reality. They yell, “The Second Amendment!” until they’re blue in the face, but none of the following policies seeks to erode constitutional rights. They seek to protect our communities and save lives.

First, legislation for universal background checks must be passed. Approximately 40 percent of gun sales occur without a background check: Many take place at gun shows and online, oftentimes through social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. More than 90 percent of Americans support background checks, and the policy would reduce the number of dangerous weapons falling into the hands of the wrong people.

We must combat legislation that seeks to increase the proliferation of guns in public spaces, including college campuses, bars and places of worship. We’re told by the gun lobby that the only answer to “a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” So what happened at the Navy Yard or Fort Hood? Is anyone going to argue that there weren’t enough guns in those situations?

And we must combat the dangerous, discriminatory “stand your ground” laws, which are extremely subjective and encourage vigilantes in states across the country.

Telling the names and stories of victims is not just important. It’s necessary. Michael Skolnik said, “When we know names, we know faces. And when we know faces, we know families. And when we know families, we know humanity.” For real change, we have to start caring about Kevin Miller, a 13-year-old who was gunned down in New York while walking home from school, just as much as we care about our own neighbors and children. We must remember the names of children killed in rural towns, suburbs and urban environments alike. Until we accept that this is an American issue, not just an inner-city problem, we cannot move forward.

I commit, with absolute conviction, to continue fighting to reduce gun violence in my community and in our country. I refuse to remain silent as our youth continue being gunned down every single day. I do this not only to honor the memories of those who have lost their lives, but also to respect and protect the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for those who are still living.

Christine Dickason is a public policy leadership major from Collierville, Tenn.

— Christine Dickason