I’m the father of two young girls. Like every parent, I know that my first responsibility is to keep my kids safe. We promise them that we’ll protect them from bad things that can happen in the world.
Right now, as a country, we’re failing to keep that promise to our kids. My older daughter starts kindergarten next year, and before she goes off to school, I want to know that we’re going to do something about gun violence.
Last month, a teenager with a semi-automatic assault weapon murdered 17 people in cold blood at a high school in Parkland, Florida. We’ve seen so many mass shootings in this country that I worried we had become desensitized to them; we grieve, argue, and move on. If the deaths of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary school didn’t move us to act, then I wasn’t sure what would.
But something is different this time. Thanks to the outspoken leadership of the student survivors in Parkland, our national conversation is finally changing. This week, students at State College High School and across the country will walk out of their classrooms in peaceful, symbolic protest to challenge us to finally take action.
We have reached the tipping point. We are going to get meaningful gun legislation passed. The next question is what exactly that will be.
The NRA, the weapons manufacturers they represent, and the politicians they control have offered a “solution”—arming classroom teachers—that just so happens to involve the sale of more firearms, rather than fewer. Ask any teacher: this idea is so misguided that it’s insulting. Teachers in K-12 and even college teachers like myself want to focus on learning, without being deputized into law enforcement. I’m open to other suggestions for strengthening school security, but even the presence of an armed and trained police officer wasn’t enough to stop the shooter in Parkland. We can and must find a better solution.
While I respect the Second Amendment, I also support common-sense ideas that are supported by the vast majority of Americans: fixing our broken background check system, banning bump stocks, keeping firearms out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers and others who raise red flags, raising the minimum age to purchase a gun, improving coordination between law enforcement agencies, and investing in mental health treatment.
These ideas will put a big dent in our gun violence problem, but they won’t fix our mass shooting problem. That’s why I also support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15 used in Parkland.
Mass shootings are crimes, and every crime has three elements: means, motive, and opportunity.
The motive is the reason for committing the crime, and in the case of mass shootings, it varies widely: mental illness, racism, sexism, homophobia, or just plain rage. It’s almost impossible to detect ahead of a mass shooting.
The opportunity is just the availability of a large number of victims. Recent mass shooters have terrorized churches, movie theaters, outdoor concerts, and nightclubs. This isn’t just a school safety issue; it’s an issue for anyone who goes out in public.
But the one common denominator in every mass shooting, and the one aspect of the crime we can address most easily, is the means: semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15.
I’ve had good conversations with gun owners, and we agree: these are military weapons. They are not required for hunting, sport shooting, or self-defense. They are designed to do one thing: kill large numbers of people in a very short period of time. If we want to get serious about ending the crime of mass shooting, we need to follow the lead of every other country in the developed world and eliminate the means to the crime with a ban and a voluntary buyback program. Mental illness, violent video games, and bigotry exist in every other country, and so do schools and churches and movie theaters, but mass shootings only happen here, because semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15 are legal only here.
Across the political spectrum, the American people are demanding meaningful changes to our gun laws. Politicians have been forced to come to the bargaining table, even if many of them have come kicking and screaming. This is the moment that will determine whether we uphold our promise to our kids to keep them safe. If our elected officials in Congress won’t use their power to act, we owe it to our kids to make sure that we use our power to replace them.