On June 8th, the day after yet another angry young man opened fire on strangers in Santa Monica, California, the actor and comedian Michael McKean tweeted “I hope we’re all savoring these brief peaceful moments between shootings.”
It’s sad but true: our news cycle truly is a cycle when it comes to stories of gun violence, which we see again and again. And the quiet between these tragedies feels all too fleeting.
I expected, like many, a national change after the December 14, 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where shooter Adam Lanza murdered 26 people, 20 of them children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. But six months later, what has changed? In mid-April, the Senate failed to pass bipartisan sponsored legislation which would have expanded background checks for gun purchases, and banned assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips. Last time I wrote on this issue, the number of outraged, vitriolic emails I received from pro-gun activists and parents — men and women who would like to see no change in our current laws — far outweighed the quietly supportive “likes” and re-tweets my piece garnered on social media. Our nation seems as into guns as ever.
It was with these dire thoughts that I attended the Make 1 Simple Change panel yesterday morning. Make 1 Simple Change is an initiative begun by the editors of All You, Essence, Health, and Real Simple magazines. The concept? That lasting change often starts with one simple idea. The editors asked people across the country to submit one suggestion for how we can improve our nation to keep our children safer from gun violence. (You can visit their website to read the submissions.)
The panel featured Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and current activist for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, a vocal proponent of tougher gun laws since the death of her 15-year-old daughter Hadiya,; Dr. Gail Saltz, bestselling author and Today show contributor; Kelly Wallace, Chief Correspondent at iVillage and soon-to-be Editor at Large at CNN; and The Honorable Christine Todd Whitman, who served as Administrator of the EPA from 2001 to 2003, and was the Governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001. Kristin van Ogtrop, editor-in-chief of Real Simple, moderated.
The panelist shared my frustration at the lack of change in gun legislation, which Mr. Goddard claimed was due to “deaf elected officials.” He said, “Why [these tragedies occur] is a huge question. How is not.” The perpetrators gain access to guns, often ones with large clips that enable them to shoot for long periods without stopping to reload, which is when they are most vulnerable. (For example, Adam Lanza packed a 33 round clip, and was tackled by a 64 year old woman when he ran out of bullets.)
Some simple changes that would make a huge difference? Outlaw these military-style clips, which were designed to kill many people, fast. Instate stringent background checks for gun purchases. And better fund and staff the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which also needs a director. (I was shocked to hear that the ATF has acted without a director for the past seven years due to partisan squabbling!)
Governor Whitman pointed out that the political gridlock on this issue is due less to partisan politics and more to geographic ones, with Mid-Western politicians of both parties voting against gun reform in order to placate their gun-loving constituents. Frequently it is the pro-gun factions, those who want no change to the current laws, who make themselves most vocal. (For more on this, see The Washington Post’s analysis of how anti-gun control tweets outnumbered the pro- ones.) “We, the citizens, are being let down,” Governor Whitman said. But that’s only because the most passionate people come out at primaries, and make their voices heard.
So one simple change we all could make is to keep the conversation about gun violence going, and to use the resources at hand— namely, the Internet, which makes it relatively easy to contact our representatives — to express our opinions. Also, educate yourself on your politicians’ stand on this issue, and when primaries and elections come, get out there and vote for the people who promise to enact tougher laws.
But while we think nationally, change must begin at home. Parents need to change the attitudes that are driving so many of our young people to commit acts of violence, or be desensitized to them. Dr. Saltz talked about how we must help our children learn how to tolerate frustration, and how to handle anger and feelings of inequality. We must assist our kids in understanding that they won’t always win, or be the best, or get what they want, but that doesn’t mean they’re failures or that we don’t love them. Nor are things hopeless.
On top of that, Dr. Saltz talked about how there is still a stigma in the U.S. around mental health care. Many people who need help don’t seek it, and they especially don’t do so for their children. “We feel our kids are extensions of ourselves, and thus we don’t want to say that everything is not ok,” she said. But if you think your child has a mental-health issue, seek help. Believe me, as someone who has seen a developmental therapist for my own son, the worst that can happen is the professional will put your mind at ease by telling you everything is ok. No one is going to be mad at you for wasting their time.
By the panels’ end, the many simple changes that were shared left me feeling hopeful that we can do something to reduce the number of Americans wounded and killed by firearms. As Mr. Goddard said, we should take hope in the fact that the Senate even voted on gun legislation, something they haven’t done in twenty years. We can’t stop talking about this stuff, and thinking about it, in ways large and small. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “oh, well” or “how sad” the next time we hear about a shooting, as if this is just what our country has come to. We’re not powerless.
So one simple change I’m going to make? I’m going to nurture hope that things will get better. And I’m going to share that positive belief with my friends, and family, and most importantly, my son.