Will the U.S. finally take action? It’s up to all of us.
I was at a Google event in Mountain View, California getting ready to interview the CEO of Fitbit when I heard the news. It had happened again. Another school shooting, this one in Uvalde, Texas. An elementary school. Young kids. A semi-automatic weapon, the kind of gun that inflicts maximum damage. An 18-year-old kid on a rampage. I felt sick.
I thought about those poor children. The parents going about their day, the heart-stopping rumors circulating. The desperate, frantic search for information. The excruciating wait. The soul-crushing news. The shock. The anguish. The sleepless nights to come.
Over the course of my professional life, I made a personal decision: I could simply not stand idly by while the lives of so many innocent people were being destroyed by guns. Columbine in particular was a turning point for me. Interviewing Craig Scott, who had lost his sister Rachel, and Michael Shoals, who had lost his son Isaiah, brought me so close to the indescribable pain of gun violence, I almost felt like I was absorbing their trauma, second-hand. Thirteen years after Columbine came Sandy Hook. I traveled to Newtown, Connecticut to cover the story.
As I wrote in my memoir:
“It happened on a Friday afternoon. Two producers and I jumped in a car and headed to Newtown, Connecticut, and attended a prayer vigil that night. Jackie and Mark Barden lived there with their children, James, Natalie, and, until Friday, their darling, redheaded 7-year-old, Daniel. When I went back to Newtown on Sunday, I nervously knocked on their door. Someone opened it and I was surprised they invited me in.
There were at least 40 people inside, including Jackie’s nine siblings, their spouses and kids. A fire crackled in the fireplace and the Christmas tree was up. As gently as I could, I asked Jackie and Mark, ‘Do you think you could talk to me about what happened?’
I was guided into the family room. James, who must have been about 11, had tears streaming down his face throughout the interview—an extraordinary embodiment of pain and one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. That uneasy dichotomy that every reporter knows, wanting to be respectful but also wanting to capture profound human drama in its purest rawest form…I hadn’t felt it this viscerally since Columbine.”
The names of the places are burned into our memories: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Parkland, Sandy Hook.
But do you remember West Nickel Mines, that Amish Schoolhouse in Pennsylvania that experienced a shooting in October of 2006 (5 dead); the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon in October of 2015 (10 dead); the Rancho Tehama shootings in Northern California in November 2017 (5 dead); the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas in May of 2018 (10 dead)?
And these are just school shootings.
Remember Aurora, Las Vegas, Boulder, and just last weekend, Buffalo?
Have we become completely inured?
In 2016, I executive produced and narrated a documentary called Under the Gun that traced the history of the NRA — an organization that was first established in November 1871 to encourage gun safety and responsible gun ownership — and how it had been co-opted by gun manufacturers.
While reporting for that project, I learned that there are more gun stores in this country than McDonald’s and Starbucks stores combined.
That film also featured first-person accounts from people who had lost children to gun violence. Every story broke my heart. They shared how they turned their pain into activism. I hope people watching thought, “What if it had been my child? What would I have done to keep the unspeakable pain from happening to another family?” I am enormously proud of that film.
Then it came to light that the director and editor had added a nine-second pause after a question I had asked, and the Virginia Citizens Defense League sued me for $12 million. The civilian firearms lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but unfortunately, the controversy undermined the importance of the film and its message. I’ve put the trailer here for those who are interested, and you can watch the film on Amazon Prime. I hope you’ll check it out. I’m so grateful to the families who were willing to talk about and relive the pain of their losses…something I’m sure they do every day.
It’s so depressing to hear the same, tired arguments surface after this latest example of senseless carnage. (“It’s a mental health problem” — no, it’s not. It’s easy access to guns. Other countries have the same mental health issues and far lower incidences of gun violence. The ridiculous adage of “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is just that…ridiculous. “Arm teachers!” Seriously? I could go on, but you get the drift: Anything but sensible gun laws.)
Americans make up 4 percent of the world’s population, but hold an estimated half of all civilian firearms. In 2021 alone, Americans bought 18.9 million guns. A rising crime rate has prompted more women and minorities to buy guns for self-defense.
I have no interest in taking guns away from law-abiding citizens, who should be required to store their weapons safely. As you can see in this PSA called “End Family Fire” produced by Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, every day, eight children and teens are unintentionally injured or killed due to an unlocked or unsupervised gun in the home.
Can we finally take action? Doesn’t it seem strange that many of the states that require a waiting period for a woman to obtain an abortion have no waiting periods for gun purchases?
According to my friend Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center, who has been an advocate for gun violence prevention for 16 years, some progress is happening at the state level. Since the Sandy Hook shooting on December 14, 2012, 48 states and DC have passed 466 strong gun laws. Can we get the 50 senators who refuse to vote on H.R. 8 to at least go on the record that they’re against universal background checks? Meanwhile, maybe people who care about this issue need to be single-issue voters and be ruthless about it. What is a candidate’s position on guns? Only support those candidates whose stance on guns aligns with yours.
I was heartened when I read about a study by a pro-Democracy group called “More In Common” that found that 77 percent of Americans surveyed believe our differences are not so great that we can’t come together.
Now is the time for citizens to demand those who represent them enact some sensible gun laws, such as a background check requirement for all firearms sales, an extreme risk protection order law, and a stronger policy regarding the minimum age to purchase and possess firearms. The shooter in Uvalde bought himself a semi-automatic weapon for his 18th birthday. Some of the children were unrecognizable. Think about that for a minute. Their parents weren’t even allowed to see them.
How can we as a nation tolerate this? Where there’s a will there’s a way. But will the will be forgotten after these 19 children and their teachers are buried? Or will we finally take action? It’s up to all of us.
Opponents of gun safety measures may not move on the issue. They’re hoping we give up. And that’s why we can’t. Because sadly, another school shooting is likely to happen. And this time, we need to stay outraged.
Text COURAGE to 34131 to demand action from the Senate.