By: STEPHEN SALISBURY
This past weekend, we saw a bunch of true heroes in action. Young people, whose lives were at the mercy of a gun-toting former classmate just weeks before, stood up in front of half a million spectators in Washington, D.C., and proclaimed, “We are not going to put up with this, anymore!” The March for Our Lives events that happened across the globe were instigated and coordinated by this same group of high-school students.
What I admired most about what I saw on Saturday, was not just what the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students were able to accomplish in 39 days since the attack, but the fact that they had the self-awareness to realize that what they were protesting wasn’t just about them. They understand that this issue of gun violence is a national epidemic. It happens every day in cities and towns all over our country and is particularly ubiquitous in communities that are inhabited primarily by persons of color.
One of the criticisms of this movement is that people are starting to actually pay attention now that a bunch of white kids are being victimized and taking a stand. If that were completely true, then change should have happened more readily after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012. Out of the 26 victims in that massacre, 20 were children ages 6 or 7, and only one of those students was not white. What is different now is that young people are no longer waiting for their elected officials to take action. They are taking to the streets and demanding action.
As one who has studied how the political process works in this country, let me plead with those of you who are passionate about this issue. The only thing that truly motivates politicians is the overwhelming desire to be re-elected and the money it takes to make that happen. The single best thing you can do as a citizen is to vote, but in addition to that, let your representative know that, should they continue to receive money from the gun lobby, you are going to do everything in your power to make sure they are not re-elected to their post.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics website, our 2nd District Congresswoman, Republican Jackie Walorski, has received more money than any other Indiana candidate during this election cycle from the NRA. But this is not a partisan problem. The Washington Post reports that the longtime Democratic Senator from right here in South Bend, Joe Donnelly, received an A rating from the NRA in 2012.
Both of these candidates are up for re-election this year. If you want to effect change, you must let them know that this is no longer acceptable.
Unless, of course, you don’t believe that our gun laws should change. While I disagree with that point of view, I respect your right to hold it. But I am pleading with anyone who reads this column, regardless of your political views, something has to change. It feels like our country has reverted to a culture not unlike that of the “wild, wild west” of the 1800s—gunslingers strolling into innocent communities and wreaking havoc.
There is not a day that goes by during the week when I don’t look around at our campus and think to myself, “What would I do to insure my survival and the survival of those around me, should an active shooter be present on our campus?” That is a horrifying thing to have to think about, but it has become a necessity in today’s society.
Another thing that we all can do is be sensitive to those around us. Look for signs of disconnection and depression among those with whom we share our classrooms. In the five years that I’ve been a part of this academic community, I know of a number of students who have taken their own lives or attempted to, at least one of which, I sat next to in class. You never know how much a simple “hello” or “how are you doing?” can impact someone.
There are many complicated factors involved that can lead to someone choosing to bring a gun to a school and wantonly kill those who cross their paths. Modifying our gun laws to make it harder for certain individuals to attain guns and making certain types of guns completely inaccessible is just a start. Reforming a culture in which this kind of activity is endemic will take so much more than that.