Stand up to those who oppose gun laws – Times Union


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It’s understandable to want to take a break from the news these days: a looming government shutdown, the omicron variant, and constant attacks on our democracy from those claiming to be protecting it. It’s enough to make me want to pull the covers over my head with instructions not to disturb me until spring.

Instead of hiding, though, I try to use this space to write about life’s minor annoyances or my delightful quirks in the hope that readers will find it amusing, or relatable, or at least a distraction from the difficult headlines. That had been my intention this week, too. Then I saw the news and I just couldn’t do it.

There was another school shooting on Tuesday, this time at Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich. I did not learn about it, however, until Wednesday when I saw the headline stating that a fourth student had died in the shooting. I not only felt grief, but also guilt because I didn’t know three children had already died or even that there had been a school shooting the day before that also injured seven others. As a parent, it didn’t seem right that I had gone about my life oblivious to the fact that the Michigan parents who had dutifully sent their children off to school that morning had just received the worst possible news.

That’s the thing that gets me. Every day in this country every child who goes to school is at risk of becoming a victim of gun violence. And every person who loves someone who either learns or works in a school setting knows that our loved ones are at risk. But we internalize and suppress our fears because openly acknowledging a danger that is so real and so random would be impossible to bear on a daily basis. Then the next school shooting happens and brings the nightmare back to the surface.

Yes, the next school shooting. It’s been over 22 years since the shootings at Columbine High School that left 13 dead and 24 injured, nine years this month since 20 first graders and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and almost four years since 17 people were murdered and another 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As horrific as those events were, and all the other school shootings that have happened in the years between, nothing has been done to protect the innocents. We’ve gone from hoping the most recent school shooting will be the last to hoping the next one won’t be in our town.

As a society, we have decided that living this way is acceptable. Or, at least, it is more acceptable than making even the most basic, sensible reforms to our gun laws. In fact, laws determining who can have a gun and how they can carry it have become more permissive rather than more protective thanks to the powerful gun lobby whose propaganda has convinced people that the Second Amendment provides them an absolute right to whatever guns they want and whose money maintains a stranglehold on our legislative bodies. So instead of curtailing access to guns, we infringe the rights and freedoms of the potential victims by increasing police presence on campuses, installing metal detectors, and having more lockdown drills.

This burden needs to shift back to those who want to own guns. Calls for waiting periods, background checks, and bans on military-style assault rifles are small things to ask so that everyone can begin to enjoy freedom from gun violence. Unfortunately, many see these measures as unacceptable government overreach, much the same way that some view wearing masks and getting vaccinated during a global pandemic to be a form of tyranny. The school day starts with the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe we should change the last line to “with liberty and justice for me.”

I am angry that our children are not safe in our schools. I am frustrated that our attention shifts so easily that we get distracted from doing the real work of preventing the next school shooting. And I’m exhausted by the fact that living with the fear of gun violence is the price of being an American. But as the tears I shed after this most recent shooting have proved, I have not become numb. And I am willing to bet that you haven’t either.

We have the power to change this. Standing up to those who oppose gun laws of any kind can be scary because those people tend to be loud, and angry, and armed. But there are more of us. And, at least for now, we are living in a democracy. Call your lawmakers and tell them you support gun law reform, vote for candidates who will stand up to the gun lobby, and support organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety that advocate for gun control. We owe this to our children.

Betsy Bitner is a Capital Region writer. [email protected]

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