In December 2014, one of my high school classmates, Paige Stalker, was killed in a hail of gunfire on the east side of Detroit. Police reports suggest that this was a case of mistaken identity in a dispute between drug gangs. But the circumstances of the shooting are irrelevant to the outcome of the case. About 30 shots were fired in the course of the altercation. Three other teenagers riding in the car with Paige were injured. Paige was 16 years old.
The murder remains unsolved — the murderers remain uncaught, more than three years later — but we know what the weapon was: an assault rifle.
Yet, I almost didn’t write this column. What good could another column about gun reform do? It seems like we go through the same process every time a mass shooting happens in this country: a period of grieving, followed by a lot of sound and fury, resulting in nothing. It’s as if a certain numbness has set in.
Activists march, but don’t feel heard. Letters are sent but aren’t read by those in power. Bills calling for controls on firearms are referred into the oblivion of congressional committees, never to see the light of day. The White House, for its part, started an entirely misdirected campaign directed at violence in video games — something with no proven link to gun violence.
But this time is different. We sit at a political juncture, with the voices and actions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and countless other gun control activists finally reaching salience in our national political discourse. We’ve gotten to a point at which simple offerings of “thoughts and prayers” after a tragedy are mocked in the public sphere — they’ve become a meme instead of an acceptable form of condolences after a national tragedy. And this shows a massive paradigm shift in the way our political discourse works. It’s time for action.
We must capitalize on this political moment. Thoughts and prayers from our elected officials aren’t enough — there needs to be a political price to pay for ignoring the voices of the public, and it’s up to us to make sure that we hold those in power accountable by campaigning and voting in the midterm elections this November and keeping up the pressure on elected officials until then.
Public opinion polling demonstrates widespread support for gun reform. According to polling by Politico and Morning Consult, public support for stricter gun control has hit a recent high. More than two-thirds of those surveyed agreeing that stricter gun controls are needed — and much of that new support actually comes from Republicans in the survey sample. More specific proposals also receive widespread approval — about seventy percent of voters support banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, for example. Our national discourse might make it seem like there’s a broad consensus behind gun control, but intransigence in Congress and in state legislatures across the country prevents action from being taken.
There’s legislation in Congress now that could help to keep dangerous firearms out of the public sphere. H.R. 5087 would reinstate the federal assault weapons ban. S. 1945 would limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds. Yet other legislators call for allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to actually study gun violence — something that is inexplicably banned for political reasons. All of these actions would not solve the problem of gun violence on their own, but they are a responsible step in the right direction.
So, what can you do to keep our policymakers accountable? Make sure that your voices are as loud as possible. Go and march in rallies like the March for Our Lives or the Princeton Rally for Gun Reform. Join in phone-banking and letter-writing with your friends to keep the pressure up on state and federal legislators. Register to vote — gun reform needs to be an issue in the midterm elections. We owe it to Paige and the more than 100,000 other Americans killed by gun violence since 2014 — an average of 96 deaths a day — to eliminate the scourge of deadly gun violence across our country. If legislators don’t listen to our calls for common-sense gun reform, then let’s elect different ones in November.
Nicholas Wu is a senior in the Wilson School from Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.