By Karsonya Wise Whitehead
We move quickly from one tragedy to the next, and despite our best intentions, it has become much harder to focus on and try to fix one thing because there is just too much happening.
In the last month, we have marked one million people who have died from COVID-19; there has been a marked uptick in violent crime across the country; a white supremacist domestic terrorist targeted and killed 10 Black people at a grocery store; and, Robb Elementary School, where a mass shooter killed 19 children and two teachers.
“To look around the United States today is enough to make prophets and angels weep,” James Baldwin once wrote. Even with all this pain, school shootings should hit differently and should lead to change. Children are our future, and they are the most vulnerable part of our society.
In the Masai culture, their traditional greeting is “Casserian Energi,” which means “How are the children?” They believe that the best determinant for their community’s future health and prosperity is the mental, emotional, and psychological well-being of their children.
I remember Columbine and the fear and anger that everyone expressed in 1999. This was before social media, when we sent emails and made phone calls or marched to get our elected officials to do something. And nothing happened.
I remember Sandy Hook in 2012 and how I believed that after the senseless murder of 20 children and six teachers, America would do what the United Kingdom did in 1996 after the Dunblane Massacre. On March 13, 1996, a gunman went into Dunblane Primary School, and shot and killed 16 children and one teacher. In response to the outrage and petitions from the people, two firearms acts were passed, one which outlawed the private ownership of most handguns within the U.K.
Here in America, after Sandy Hook, the cycle of emotions started, and when we finally looked away, nothing had changed. I am not convinced that gun laws will change in this country, even less than a month after America had one mass shooting per day for an entire week that ended with a mass shooting in Buffalo.
We live in a country that has more guns than people. There are 258.3 million adults in America, and there are estimated to be over 400 million guns between the police, the military, and civilians, with civilians owning 393 million. According to the Pew Research Center, only 30% of Americans own a legally registered gun, so 98% of the registered guns in this country are in the hands of approximately 77 million people.
In 2019, after someone pointed a rifle at my youngest son and me, I reached out to a therapist friend who told me that when I feel most afraid, I should say to myself things like, “I am safe. My son is safe. We are safe.”
I have come back to this moment and said those words countless times, and every time I do, the realist in me whispers, “for now.” I know that things will not change until Congress changes them.
Congress can start by passing both the Keep Americans Safe Act (H.R.2510 / S.1108), which would prohibit the sale and transfer of high-capacity magazines, and the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021, which would ban the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. We also need to get rid of our obsession with guns because until we do that, we will never be safe. More importantly, our children will never be safe.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead is the founding executive director of The Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice at Loyola University Maryland.