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Change Our Laws or We’ll Change Our Leadership

19.08.12 SOC Two Young Leaders Blog Visuals
A photo of Javier Rodriguez (2nd L), 15, and friends adorn a makeshift memorial for victims of the Cielo Vista Mall Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, on August 6, 2019. Rodriguez was one of the victims of the August 3 shooting that left 22 people dead. (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

The weight is constant. It’s just heavier on some days and lighter on others.

When you’re surrounded by people who inspire you and whom you deeply admire, the weight starts to lift. When the breaking news notification that there’s been yet another shooting lights up your phone screen, the weight becomes nearly unbearable.

The weight of worrying that someone you know, someone you love, is going to be the next victim of a senseless shooting is always with our generation. We’re consumed by the knowledge that 100 people will die of gun violence today alone, and that the next mass shooting might happen in our school, our place of worship, our movie theatre, our grocery store, our home, our community. What teenager should have to carry that weight?

On the weekend of August 2nd, the two of us were in Washington DC for our first weekend of training as 2019 Giffords Courage Fellows. The excitement in the air was palpable. Here we were, a group of 20 young people, ready to spend the entirety of our weekend preparing ourselves to fight the gun violence epidemic that plagues our country. From the very first night we spent learning together, we could tell that there was a unique power growing within our small band of activists. We were going to make change. We could feel it.

The weight, distributed among us, felt surprisingly bearable.

Less than 24 hours later, that would all change. The weight would feel heavier than ever when the fear that something might happen to our communities came true.

On August 3rd, the news about the El Paso shooting broke. And by the time we woke up on August 4th, the news of the Dayton shooting had broken as well.

News of any mass shooting is hard to take in. But it’s especially hard to take in if it happened in your state, if you’re worried about your friends and family, if you’re not sure who’s dead and who’s alive.

The two of us, being from Texas and Ohio respectively, were undergoing this nerve wracking process while also trying to take in the trainings and sessions we had traveled across the country to participate in. Learning about how to prevent gun violence while obsessively refreshing our news feeds for counts on fatalities and injuries felt especially poignant and painful.

The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting last year served as a haunting reminder of the role that white supremacism plays in this conversation, especially for the Jewish community. As more information surfaced about the shootings this past weekend, a similar fear boiled to the surface within another demographic already grappling with our country’s inhumane immigration policies: the Latinx community. The El Paso shooting was the deadliest coordinated terrorist attack on Latinx people in recent American history.

Hispanic communities across Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and beyond rediscovered that anti-Hispanic rhetoric isn’t just a hatred reserved for migrants at our borders—it’s so much more.

As racially-motivated shootings become more and more common, and the use of assault weapons becomes increasingly normalized, members of targeted communities are becoming all too familiar with the fear that minority groups in Pittsburgh, El Paso, and other targeted cities have endured.

He wanted to kill people that look like me. He wanted to kill people that pray and live and talk like me. It could have been my family. It could have been me.

How were we supposed to focus on solving a national crisis while people in our home states were quite literally bleeding to death because the crisis had, for too long, been left unchecked?

Anger is the most natural reaction. And we have every right to be angry. Our lawmakers knew gun violence was a real and pervasive threat. They knew it was only a matter of time until the next headline-grabbing tragedy happened in our backyards. They heard our cries and the cries of our peers as we begged for policy changes, any changes at all, that would help stymie the gun violence epidemic in our communities. And those lawmakers still chose to take the NRA’s bloody money, to turn a blind eye to a problem they had the power to solve, to show us that someone else’s right to carry a weapon of war was worth more than our lives.

But we weren’t just angry. We were overcome with a range of other emotions: pain, fear, confusion, anxiety, desperation. More than anything, we felt weighed down. When you’re weighed down—when you feel trapped underneath what feels like an immovable reality—you have no choice but to scream and fight and claw your way out.

Our fight didn’t result in literal screaming or fighting (though the impulse was tempting); instead, we channeled our fight into our activism.

Hearing the heartbreaking news of the tragedy in our communities lit a fire underneath us.

We already cared about ending gun violence, already had victims and survivors in our lives that we were fighting on behalf of, but the tragic shootings in Texas and Ohio gave us two more reasons to give everything we have to the fight for gun reform in this country.

A few days removed from both the initial news of the two mass shootings and the conclusion of our first Courage Fellowship training, our desire to change US gun policy is stronger than ever.

To Senator Cruz and Senator Cornyn, to Governor Abbott, to Senator Portman and Governor DeWine, it’s time to pay attention to us. We demand change on gun policy, and if you can’t deliver it, we’ll deliver new leadership who will. Because your inaction caused gun violence to be our generation’s weight to bear—our communities’ tragedies to bear—and we won’t stand for it any longer.

A generational reckoning is coming to fruition and no amount of money or political grandstanding can stop it.