Gabby Giffords On How Covid-19 ‘Has Laid Bare’ The Severity of Gun Violence

The former Arizona congresswoman warned we must do better when it comes to addressing the rise in shootings across the U.S.

The U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in shootings in major cities across the country, including in New York City and Chicago. New York City alone has seen more than 500 shootings so far — outpacing this time last year when the city saw 365 incidences. Though the city has seen a drop in overall crime, Chicago saw a 75 percent increase in gun violence, with 424 shootings in June 2020 compared to 242 in June 2019.

This uptick has been particularly harmful to communities of color, which have been disproportionally affected by the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest following George Floyd’s death in police custody in May. Every single one of the 100 victims shot in July was a minority, and in Chicago, Black neighborhoods have seen a 76 percent spike in shootings since the same time last year.

Gabby Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman-turned-gun-control advocate, said this increase in gun violence must be addressed, along with the effects of police brutality against people of color. With these communities feeling especially vulnerable, she maintained that the first step in solving this problem is investing in new policing models and public safety initiatives, such as community-based violence programs.

As a shooting survivor, Giffords knows first-hand the impact of gun violence — she was shot in the head at a constituent event in Tucson, Arizona in 2011. The House-passed Bipartisan Background Check Act is titled H.R. 8, in honor of her representation of Arizona’s 8th District.

Wake-Up Call: How has rising gun violence and the reckoning over police brutality affected the future of policing?

Gabby Giffords: We have to protect communities in ways that preserve the sanctity of human life — not destroy it. When acts of police brutality cause communities to lose trust in the police officers who are supposed to serve and protect them, gun violence goes up. If we live in a country where many people don’t feel safe because of their zip code or the color of their skin, then none of us are truly safe. We can’t settle for that version of America. We have to build a better one.

The virus has stymied efforts to curb gun violence. What are some ways to address this growing issue?

Covid-19 has laid bare just how severe our gun violence problem is. It took the literal shutdown of schools to stop school shootings from happening. Still, shootings in many of our cities continue to rise, despite lockdowns. We must do better. Fortunately, a number of states are taking action: Virginia’s lifesaving new gun laws recently went into effect. Rhode Island passed important ghost gun legislation. Courageous lawmakers in these and other states are recognizing and addressing the dangerous intersections of coronavirus and gun violence, which our team has written about extensively.

Several studies have shown that Black communities are disproportionately hurt by gun violence. How do guns factor into racial disparities?

Systemic racism affects Black Americans in so many ways, including the recent horrific spate of high-profile killings. These tragedies need to be met with action. We need to pass gun safety laws that will close dangerous loopholes in our federal laws. We need to fund community violence programs in our cities. And we need to address the many inequities in our legal and prison systems, which means rooting out the systemic racism that makes living in this country a different experience for Black Americans than it is for white Americans.

The pandemic has triggered an uptick in gun sales, particularly among first-time buyers. What are some of the basic rules about responsible gun ownership?

I’m a gun owner. Like many other reasonable gun owners across the country, I know that rights come with responsibilities, like passing a background check and safely storing your firearm. My heart breaks every time I read about a child unintentionally shot with an improperly stored gun. First-time gun buyers need to understand the responsibility they’re taking on when they purchase a deadly weapon and enroll in firearm safety courses. Most importantly, people should know that owning a gun does not automatically make you safer — in fact, research shows the opposite.

Your team spends a lot of time advocating for community-based violence prevention programs and alternatives to over-policing. Can you tell us more about these programs and how they work?

There are a few different models of community-violence intervention programs, which usually work by engaging the small percentage of a city’s population at the highest risk of violence. These programs, which aim to stop individuals before they pick up a gun, have been proven to drastically reduce violence in a short amount of time. Gun violence costs the American economy $229 billion a year. The investment required to keep these programs running is minimal compared to the lives they save and the tremendous cost savings they generate. Cash-strapped states facing difficult decisions must continue funding these vital programs. We can’t abandon the courageous street outreach workers who are on the front lines of two crises: COVID-19 and gun violence.

Though a vast majority of Americans have supported requiring background checks on all gun purchases, there are still loopholes in federal gun laws that exempt unlicensed sellers from having to perform background checks before selling firearms. What are some challenges to closing these loopholes other than lobbyist groups like the NRA?

Candidates are running and winning on gun safety at the local, state, and federal levels. But unfortunately, too many politicians still take their marching orders from the NRA. Since the Bipartisan Background Checks Act passed in the House in February 2019, Mitch McConnell has refused to even allow a vote in the Senate. I’ve always loved a challenge, and this is a fight we will win. This year we can elect a gun safety majority in the Senate, preserve our majority in the House, and get my friend Joe Biden into the White House. In the coming weeks, we’re hosting a series of virtual events in states with key Senate races. I hope you’ll join me at some of these events!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This originally appeared on Medium. 

‘The Holidays Have Never Been the Same’: One Dad on Life After Sandy Hook

Mark Barden writes about losing his son Daniel seven years ago, and why he is fighting against gun violence

December 14 marks seven years since 20 children and six educators were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Mark Barden’s son Daniel, 7, was among those killed. In remembrance, Mark (co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise) writes about losing his son right before the holidays, and why he has dedicated his life to try to save so many others. Read his words below.

Seven years ago, my family was gearing up for the much-anticipated holidays. It was a joyous time in our household. The Christmas tree was trimmed, and we were counting down the days until Santa arrived to deliver presents.

But on December 14, 2012, our lives were changed forever when my youngest of three beautiful children, my sweet little Daniel, was killed in his first-grade classroom along with 19 of his peers and six educators. The joyfulness we felt in our household and community swiftly turned to unimaginable grief.

The holidays have never been the same. I remember he used to run out onto the driveway, sometimes barefoot on the cold pavement, to give his cousins a big hug when they would arrive for the celebration. He loved his family more than anything.


Daniel Barden at Christmas

This time of year is now coupled with deep reflection and remembrance. A time where my son will forever be seven years old. Over and over again, I have to reacquaint myself with the horrible reality that he is never coming back. It leaves me breathless.

The only way I can push through the agony of getting out of bed in the mornings and remembering that Daniel isn’t here is by knowing that, every day we’re apart, I’m doing all I can to honor him.

In the days that followed the tragedy, I made a promise to my little boy and those lost that day that I would devote my own life to preventing gun violence. I also promised my beloved town that I would do everything in my power to make sure Sandy Hook is remembered not as the town filled with grief and victims, but as a place where real change began.

So many people tell me how helpless and hopeless they feel, especially with the uptick in gun violence we see in our schools across our country and the lack of action on the federal level to address it. However, there are proven preventative measures that can help curb this epidemic.

One of the reasons I co-founded Sandy Hook Promise is to create a culture that is engaged in preventing shootings, violence, and other harmful acts in schools. Research shows — including a recent study of school shootings — that school shooters demonstrate warning signs prior to their attack. This means that gun violence is preventable.

I urge all parents, students, and educators to learn the warning signs of potential violence, like being socially isolated, having a significant personality change, extreme prolonged sadness or depression, or patterns of aggressive behavior. You can download the full list here.

Daniel Barden on a school bus.

While one sign on its own does not mean a person is planning to harm themselves or others, many signs over time can point to an increased risk. Knowing what the signs are and when/how to speak up after seeing them on social media or in-person in a stranger, friend, or family member is essential to gun violence prevention. If someone had spoken up about the signs that the individual who shot Daniel was exhibiting, my sweet little boy would still be here with us.

Beyond knowing the signs and intervening, another way to honor the lives lost to shootings is to call your elected officials and encourage them to support policy that helps reduce gun violence. Legislation like Universal Background Checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs, also known as “Red Flag Laws”), are common-sense solutions to keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

The holidays will never be the same for me and my family. My heart breaks all over again with every remembrance. It never gets easier. We’ve spent seven years wondering what he might look like now, what new hobbies he might have. Seven years writing down memories, so we won’t forget the tiniest detail about them. Seven years replaying in our heads the last time we saw him alive on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012.

We would do anything to turn back time and have our little Daniel back in our arms. We can’t change what happened, but we can work to change what happens to other families, to prevent future tragedies.

Gun violence is not inevitable. It is preventable. I hope you’ll learn the warning signs, advocate for gun safety, and join me in making the Sandy Hook “Promise” to do all you can to protect children from gun violence.

Mark Barden is the co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. Donate to help the non-profit fight gun violence here.

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