One year ago, young people turned out to vote in record numbers to send a message to this nation: We will not stand by and live in a society where gun violence ravages our public spaces, houses of worship and schools. Nearly 40,000 people die every year in this country because of guns, and everyone is at their breaking point. The unfortunate reality is that Washington is completely out of touch with the American people and their support for gun violence prevention. What Washington hasn’t accepted is that we’ve already won the fight for public opinion.
Washington is completely out of touch with the American people and their support for gun violence prevention.
Two months ago, mass shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, captured headlines. The tragedies echoed so many of the shootings that have rocked this country — including the one we both lived through at our high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. As calls for gun reform predictably returned, we hoped for a brief moment that this was what would force Washington to act.
That was the summer. It’s now October, and nothing has happened.
A Sept. 10 NPR/PBR/Marist public poll shows not only how out of touch our elected officials are, but also how our politicians cannot seem to grasp that the nation has turned against the hollow “thoughts and prayers” playbook. The data is clear; Americans want laws to prevent gun violence. According to the poll:
- 89 percent of adult Americans want increases in funding for mental health screening and treatment.
- 83 percent of adults support universal background checks.
- 72 percent of adults support “red flag” laws.
- 72 percent of adults support gun licensing.
- 57 percent of adults support banning semi-automatic assault rifles.
What’s stopping reform isn’t public will, it’s the politicians who stand in the way of reform. The White House and Congress have made clear that 40,000 deaths each year — roughly 100 fatal shootings every day — doesn’t strike them as a national emergency or something particularly worthy of their time. They have looked us in the face and told us they are sorry, but there’s nothing they can do.
What they’ve failed to realize, however, is that running for office in support of gun violence prevention is a winning platform.
For 20 months now, our organization, March for Our Lives, has been one of the leaders of the grassroots movement to end America’s gun violence epidemic. In 2018, we organized and helped a historic number of young people to turn out to the polls — the highest number in a midterm election ever and the first time younger generations outvoted baby boomers. A record 46 NRA-backed candidates lost their races.
Today, alongside Giffords, the gun violence group started by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, we’re upping the stakes. Our two organizations are hosting 10 democratic presidential candidates in Las Vegas at the 2020 Gun Safety Forum on Wednesday. Like the majority of Americans, we believe gun violence is a critical electoral issue that must be debated, just like climate change, education, health care, the economy and foreign policy.
Shouldn’t politicians care more about safe communities than NRA donations? The good news is that politicians are becoming less afraid of the NRA and its dwindling influence. To these politicians and their peers, we posed a simple question: What kind of society do we want for ourselves and our children?
A couple of weeks ago, March for Our Lives released A Peace Plan for a Safer America. The plan calls for sweeping reforms that would dramatically reduce all types of gun deaths, remove weapons of war from our streets, institute a national gun licensing system, establish a national director of gun violence prevention who would report directly to the president, and create a community-based Safety Corps that would work to address issues of gun safety and gun violence prevention at local levels. And that’s just the beginning.
At the heart of the Peace Plan is just that, peace. Guns have not made America safe. They have not kept the peace.
The cynical view on gun reform is that little progress has been made. But there is a real silver lining: The battle for the hearts and minds of voters has already been won.
All we need now are politicians to care more about people than the guns that kill them.
Emma González and Tyah-Amoy Roberts
Emma González is a co-founder and Tyah-Amoy Roberts is a board member of March For Our Lives. Both are graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.