Seventeen students won’t shout with joy over the acceptance letter they earned from the college they wanted to attend this fall. Seventeen families won’t plan graduation celebrations this May. Seventeen sets of parents won’t be trying to figure out how to pay the college tuition for their beloved teenagers. An AR-15 brought all of that to an end on Valentine’s Day 2018.
The dead are the starkest victims, but they are not the only ones. The students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School heard the shots, ran into classrooms, huddled in fear, and will never be the same. This last week they buried classmates and friends who they will never see or talk to again. The parents of those murdered will never see their children come through the door at the end of the day and ask them, “How was school?” Parents of those who survived will never again be free of the fear that they might get the phone call that says “I’m sorry…”
These passionate students and thousands of their colleagues across the nation are demanding that we adults take action to stop the violence. The deaths and wounds of hundreds of innocent lives are the result of the refusal to stand up to the 5 million members of the NRA, who insist their right to possess war zone weapons is more important than the lives of Americans. High schoolers and those seeking to prevent future violent mass murders will march in Washington, DC on March 24.
This is not a school safety issue. Mother Jones magazine published a comprehensive database by researchers at Harvard University of mass shootings in the U.S. from 1982-2018 (“US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018”), corroborated by an FBI study. At least 97 mass shootings have taken place in the past 35 years. The data show the incidence of mass shootings is rising. Twelve of the 97 attacks took place in schools. Twenty massacres occurred in the workplace. Thirty others were leveled in shopping malls, restaurants, places of worship, and government buildings. The average age of the killers was 35. Here are some of the deadliest:
- 26 dead, 20 injured, Texas First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 2017
- 58 dead, 546 injured, open air concert, Las Vegas, Nevada, October 2017
- 14 dead, 21 injured, San Bernadino, California, December 2015
- 12 dead, 8 injured, Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., July 2013
- 12 dead, 70 injured, movie theatre, Aurora, Colorado, July 2012
- 13 dead, 30 injured, Fort Hood, Texas, November 2009
- 14 dead, 4 injured, classroom, Binghampton, New York, April 2009
- 32 injured, 23 dead, Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Virginia, April 2007
- 15 dead, 21 injured, high school, Columbine, Colorado, 1999
More than 75% of the weapons in these 97 massacres were obtained legally: dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines. A .40-caliber Glock ended 10 lives at a school in Red Lake, Minnesota in 2005. A .40-caliber Glock and AR-15 assault rifle executed 15 in a dark movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. A .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle was used to gun down 20 school children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Of 143 weapons used in these 97 massacres, 71 were semi-automatic handguns and 28 were rifles. The 2013 Assault Weapons ban, blocked by Republicans in Congress, would have outlawed 48 of those weapons 42 high-capacity magazines and 20 assault weapons.
After an AK-47 was used to kill five children and injure 29 more at a school in Stockton, California, Ohio Democrat Senator Howard Metzenbaum introduced the original assault weapons ban bill in 1993. With New York Congressman Charles Schumer, their attempt to stop the bloodshed was politically ahead of its time. Its “kitchen sink” solutions included licensing and weapons to be banned. In 1994, Rep. Schumer and New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley introduced a bill aimed at stopping illegal gun trafficking. Almost all handguns on America’s streets start as legal weapons, then are stolen or sold through shady deals or bought by those without proper documentation or through straw buyers, who then turn them over to illegal dealers to be sold on the streets as weapons of death. The Republicans who controlled Congress stopped both bills in their tracks.
Then two other back-to-back mass shootings happened. At a San Francisco, California law firm, eight were killed and six injured, while on a Long Island, New York railroad train, five died and 19 were wounded. Senator Diane Feinstein said the shooting at 101 California Street in her home state “made clear that increasing sophistication of weapons had made it possible for a mass shooter to murder large numbers of people in a matter of minutes.” President Bill Clinton signed into law her assault weapons ban. The 1994 law banned 18 specific assault weapons, firearms with military-style features like a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or a folding stock, and high-capacity magazines holding over 10 bullets. (Washington Post, 2/22/18, “The Real Reason Congress Banned Assault Weapons in 1994 and Why It Worked.”) Intended to reduce deaths by mass shootings, statistics showed the law worked. From 1994-2004, incidences dropped to 12 and deaths to 89. After the law expired in 2004, between 2004-2014, incidences rose to 34 and deaths skyrocketed to 302.
Congress has not, since 1994, been willing to act to protect Americans. President Obama made it harder for the mentally ill to obtain these weapons, by executive order because Congress refused to care about our safety. His effort was overturned last year by a bill from Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and signed by President Trump, making it again easier for the mentally ill to buy assault weapons by preventing their inclusion on the FBI background checks list. Republicans in Congress send their prayers, but insist on “Second Amendment rights”. After each mass shooting, leaders such as Paul Ryan, tell us we are having knee-jerk reactions and that it is not time to take action.
Lawmakers entrusted with protecting Americans cannot continue allowing the carnage. We are not restricting anyone’s right to own guns. We are simply trying to make it less possible for massacres to happen and less deadly if these do.
In the face of Congress’s 24-year long refusal to act to protect our citizens, we ask the 50 states to introduce and pass strict laws to stop machine gun massacres. Americans should be able to go to movies and concerts, shopping malls, workplaces, and church without fear that a killer with an automatic gun or rifle will cut our lives short. We should be able to send our children to school without fear they will be gunned down by a legally obtained weapon capable of rapid murders.
We are Americans. We need to stand together for our common defense and protection. Our enemy is the automatic weapon. Too much blood has been spilled, too many lives lost. This is not a knee jerk reaction. This is an imperative for our nation’s survival.