By Peggy Walsh
The passing of the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre makes us pause to assess the progress the country has made in its efforts to keep our children and families safer. Unfortunately, citing any major success in these efforts is difficult.
A recent Pew Research study found that “for the first time in 20 years, a majority of Americans feel it is more important to protect the right to own firearms than to control gun ownership.” Add these statistics to the following: an FBI report concluded that in the last two years there have been 94 school shootings; every 30 minutes in America, a child or teen is killed or injured with a gun; compared to their peers in 25 other high-income nations, U.S. children and teens are17 times more likely to be shot and killed by a gun.
It is not just school mass shootings that victimize our children but easy access to loaded, improperly stored guns in the home. Although 63% of Americans think that a gun makes the home safer, a gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher. By examining death certificates, The New York Times found that many coroner’s report the shooting of a child by another child as a homicide, when in fact in nearly all cases it is an accidental shooting facilitated by the presence of guns improperly stored in the home. So where do all of these statistics and facts leave us? How can we fight the mighty lobbying power of the NRA?
Of course, the home is the place to start. Guns must be locked away and not loaded. Parents who do not keep guns in the home must have a conversation to find out if their children’s friends have guns in their home. If so, parents need to be sure that any home their child visits has all guns safely locked away and unloaded. These conversations and precautions are akin to drug and alcohol discussions that parents have with their children. We grandparents who help with child care need to have these same conversations and demand these same assurances.
Keeping pressure on our local legislators is crucial. Recent legislation in individual states indicates that major cultural shifts in attitudes toward gay marriage and medical marijuana have occurred at the local levels. Actually, a bright spot for advocates of gun safety was the successful referendum in Washington State broadening background checks for most private gun purchases. At the same time, voters rejected a competing referendum that would have limited background checks and other gun controls measures to federal requirements.
Although Pennsylvania did tighten some of its background check requirements in 2014, the legislature also passed a bill which made it easier for organizations and individuals to sue towns and cities that have their own gun laws. The state is currently being challenged in the courts by Pittsburgh, and Lancaster, as well as three Democratic state senators from this region and two state representatives. We can let our legislators know that we oppose a bill that ties the hands of local governments who know the needs of their own communities.
Most importantly: we cannot give up the fight. America is a story of David and Goliath, the underdog who somehow manages to defeat the imposing giant. The story is retold in our history and in our literature. As Americans, we believe that might does not make right and that the voice of the individual matters. We must maintain our convictions and our courage, take care of our own families, and let our lawmakers know that they are accountable to all of the people, not just the powerful NRA lobby.