Ninety-seven percent. That’s the overwhelming percentage of Americans who are in favor of universal background checks. No issue in American politics is more universally agreed upon than this. Yet nearly 40,000 people died last year due to gun violence. Why?
The truth of the matter is that members of Congress have spent decades being more concerned with their individual political futures than preventing gun fatalities. Most past presidents, too, have paid little more than lip service to families reeling from the loss of their children and loved ones.
Today, a new bill will be introduced that offers a glimmer of hope after a year marked by unspeakable tragedy. The universal background bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), will close loopholes like the one for online gun sales and the gun show loophole, which have made it easy for just about anyone to buy a gun.
The introduction of the bill on Jan. 8 is no accident—it marks the anniversary of the shooting tragedy that left six dead and 15 wounded, including then-congresswoman Gabby Giffords, back in 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. In the eight years since that day, well over a quarter-million people have been killed by guns. In all that time, and despite two members of their own wounded by gun violence and nearly losing their lives, Congress has done nothing to stop the death of our fellow citizens.
When our school was shot up, we became one of those statistics from the last eight years. We were the evening news headline. We were those kids running out of our school with SWAT teams armed as if they were going into battle. Seventeen of our classmates and teachers didn’t make it back that day.
Our political leaders supposedly make the laws that we live by. Therefore, shouldn’t they take blame for standing by while innocent people were murdered? Well, that’s the argument we made to young voters all over the country for the last 12 months.
State and federal lawmakers figured out how to mandate that people have insurance when they drive a vehicle. They’ve regulated and made our water safe to drink (for the most part). And they most certainly require us to go to school. So then, what is it about a universal background check—a check that will save lives—that has our politicians so afraid?
Three words: National. Rifle. Association.
Our politicians—particularly those on the right—have been in the pocket of the NRA, and too many of them have put profits ahead of people. And the result of their intransigence is borne out in the lives that we can’t get back.
We’ve met hundreds of people who will never get to see their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, or girlfriends ever again—their lives stolen by a bullet. Thousands of lives taken by gun violence could have been saved if this bill became law long ago, since a majority of guns (purchased for criminal purpose) are bought through the private sector and not monitored by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
It is our hope that this time the politicians will get it right, but we’re not holding our breath. We’re not going to sit around hoping and praying our politicians do the right thing. It’s been a year since the shooting at our school and nothing has happened. Gabby Giffords has been waiting eight years and nothing has happened.
Our plan is to fight in the only way we know how: to organize young people. Today, we will be in Washington to hear what the politicians have to say. We will demand that the Senate take up the bill and that both the House and Senate send legislation to the president’s desk for him to sign. In 2020, 22 Republican Senators are up for reelection. All, except one, have never voted to take a stand against gun violence, something that more than 79 percent of Republicans support.
We will, once again, take this message to the masses to remind them that their historic turnout didn’t end on Election Day. We will organize, like we have in the past, to demand that our elected officials change the laws and end America’s gun violence epidemic, or we will vote into office those who will.
We are thankful that this new Congress has chosen to listen to the words of the millions of young Americans who marched this spring and voted this fall. But we’re tired of the hollow words and promises of do-nothing politicians who are afraid to do what’s right.
We have had enough of living in fear of our favorite places. It is time as a nation we end the cycle of gun violence that continues to rage on; already, not even a week into the new year, 577 people have been shot and more than 150 others are dead due to guns.
Today’s universal background check bill is the right step, a step that will help save lives. We urge Republican Senators up for reelection, including Mitch McConnell, to listen to the majority of Americans who support a universal background check and recognize that NRA donations will not protect them from the millions of voters who strongly support keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
Last November, we organized and we won at the ballot box, and we’re not afraid to do it again.