Less than one week after a white supremacist shot and killed eight people–including six Asian women–in an act of racial terror in Atlanta, our children witnessed yet another horrifying display of hate-fueled gun violence yesterday in Boulder, Colorado. On March 22, a gunman armed with an AR-15 opened fire at a local grocery store while families were shopping and getting COVID vaccines. At least 10 people were killed in the shooting and many more were traumatized. Two teen girls hid in a coat closet for an hour, waiting to be rescued and hoping their dad survived.
For many of us, the Boulder massacre is a painful reminder of how little has changed since Colorado first made headlines in 1999 after two shooters killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School. Since Columbine, an entire generation of children has suffered these sudden and terrifying acts of violence with ever-increasing frequency. Virginia Tech in 2007. Sandy Hook in 2012. Parkland in 2018. And, now the most recent shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. Mass shootings have become the new normal.
What’s worse, mass shootings reflect just a fraction of the gun violence saturating our children’s lives. While mass shootings grab public and policymaker attention, routine gunfire takes the lives of more children and teens every week than the Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Columbine massacres combined. Day in and day out, gun violence romps through children’s playgrounds, stalks them down their streets, and shoots them through their bedroom windows. It nags at their minds and spirits, snuffing out the promise and joy of childhood. It gives them recurring nightmares and endless worries. It makes them plan their own funerals because they don’t think they’ll live to adulthood. And it makes them wonder when adults will finally stand up and take action to keep them safe.
Speaking out against gun violence at a CDF Freedom Schools rally in 2019, a young scholar hauntingly asked: “When will this madness end?” Now, two years and over 700 mass shootings later, the question on children’s minds is no longer when the killing will end–but if it will end. Year after year, our children have cried out and called on adults to protect them–and our leaders have repeatedly failed them.
Despite growing gun deaths and public outrage, Congress has wallowed in inaction for decades and allowed an entire generation of children to live in fear of gun violence or die from it. More than 25 years have passed since Congress enacted meaningful gun safety legislation–and even then, it was short-lived. While leaders in Congress temporarily banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in 1994, they refused to renew the ban in 2004 and have passed no new restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines since. And although some state and local leaders have recently tried taking matters into their own hands, these efforts have been undermined by the absence of strong gun violence prevention laws at the federal level. In fact, just 10 days before the Boulder massacre, a County District Judge blocked the implementation of a citywide ban on assault weapons like the one the gunman used, arguing that cities cannot restrict weapons deemed legal under federal law. As a result of these policy failures, thousands of people–including the 18 people killed in Atlanta and Boulder–have suffered needless and senseless deaths at the hands of these military style assault weapons.
Enough is enough. We cannot afford another 25 years of Congressional inaction as our gun violence epidemic continues to kill more people, more often. It is long past time for Congress to strengthen gun laws and save lives. The mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder were far from the first–but they can and must be the last. Congress must embrace their responsibility and opportunity to strengthen background checks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and advance other common sense measures to prevent gun violence now. Too many children are still worrying and wondering “When will this madness end?” This time, let’s give them the answer they deserve: today.