In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting three years ago, grieving parents, siblings, and neighbors banded together to back up various causes. Up sprung foundations dedicated to the 20 first-graders and six teachers murdered; organizations focused on politics and gun safety, committees to allocate donated money, and boards convened for future memorials to be erected. All of these groups, conceived in great numbers with tremendous support, varied in their missions and their purposes, but they all derived from one shared optimistic ambition: no other American community should ever have to face the same anguish that engulfed Newtown, Connecticut – my hometown.
Three years later it’s hard to say we’ve achieved that noble and difficult goal. Since Newtown joined the likes of Aurora, Columbine, Tucson, and countless other communities that have become synonymous with senseless gun violence, more than 1,000 mass shootings – defined as incidents in which four or more people are killed or injured – have occurred. My town is now just another place-marker in the history of American mass shootings. Tinkering with the definition of this type of violence, in death and injury tolls, leads to the same sobering truth: the rate of mass shootings has never been so high. The statistics have never been so grimly apparent, and the number of towns that have been forced to grieve rises by the week.
Since Sandy Hook, there have been very few moments of progress. A universal background check bill, one that most Americans said they could get behind, didn’t make it through Congress in 2013. Nor did California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposition to ban certain assault style rifles. After this month’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14 innocent individuals, Chris Murphy, the junior senator from Connecticut, created a minor sensation when he tweeted: “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.”
Some states have made some more reassuring strides. Just this week, by denying to see a case that would deem a Chicago suburb’s ordinance of banning assault weapons unconstitutional, the Supreme Court took a monumental stance on gun control without even convening. The implications of allowing Highland Park to maintain its ordinance should prove extremely beneficial to lawmakers and gun control advocates in the future. When it comes to improving background checks, many states, including Connecticut, have passed legislation pointing in the right direction. Eight states and the nation’s capital have restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and more states are putting similar limitations on magazines and various firearms, closing so-called gun-show loopholes and strengthening the information systems, ensuring that background checks actually work. Though Congress voted down a bill that would have barred individuals on terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns, Governor Dannel Malloy made sure Connecticut acted of its own accord.
While all of this incremental change is positive, it feels insufficient to someone from a town that has been profoundly affected by gun violence. To see so little being done on a national scale about an epidemic that claims the lives of 30,000 people a year is disheartening. As life goes on for the rest of us here at Loomis, or for men and women hard at work, or even the characters running for the presidency of the United States, more and more fellow Americans join the club I became a member of three years ago – eyewitnesses to the ravages of gun violence.
It’s hard for anybody to comprehend this country’s inability to keep our schools, cinemas, houses of worship, and colleges free of senseless gun violence, especially when so many other issues have seen unparalleled societal progress. Recent threats of terrorism to America, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, became very real when the Jihadist gunman in San Bernardino took advantage of our country’s lax approach to gun violence. In light of this, our president has deemed gun violence, and the ease of which it occurs, a national security threat. James Madison argued: “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation [where] the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” With 20 times more Americans dying at the pull of a trigger than in any other developed country, that statement feels trivially outdated.
Many look to the gun lobbyists of the National Rifle Association or the powerful force of the clumsily drafted Second Amendment for scapegoats, but these organizations and ideologies are just lucrative job positions and centuries’ old words. We, as a country, have a moral obligation to bring an end to an epidemic of gun violence, and it’s evident our generation will be burdened with the responsibility of solving this problem. The country we will soon inherit will be more urban, more populous and more diverse than it is now. In that America, I can only hope I will be the last of a generation to be welcomed with a gasp and an apology when I tell someone where I grew up.