I’ll never forget where I was standing when the news broke about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was in line to get a salad down the street from our office in Boston. The restaurant had TVs, but no sound was on. The banner at the bottom of the local news screen suddenly flashed “Newton Elementary School Shooting” - something done so hastily that they had forgotten the “w” in Newtown, but I didn’t realize that at the time. My stomach plunged and my heart started racing - my kids were in an elementary school in Newton. Even if it wasn’t their school, between sports, church, dance, and drama, we would know the families. I immediately went to my phone, panicked, and within seconds, realized that it wasn’t Newton, MA, but was Newtown, CT. A mixture of relief, and then guilt for feeling relieved, hit me. Then just a horrified sadness settled in as the scope of the shooting emerged.
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, I did have hope that innocent children being slaughtered at school would finally change our approach to guns in America. Clearly that hope was short-lived. In the nearly 10 years since Sandy Hook, gun deaths have increased 43% and gun murders are up 75%. Active shooter incidents are up nearly 200%, from 21 to 61 per year. We’ve seen 948 school shootings alone since Sandy Hook, with this week’s slaughter at the Robb Elementary School entering the top 5 most deadly ever. That came after the horrors at a store in Buffalo and a church in California earlier this week.
What has bothered me most are my own feelings. Of course I’m sad, angry and thoroughly frustrated. But the shock and raw emotion is gone. Perhaps in the wake of millions of lives lost to Covid and the devastating war in Ukraine, my empathetic grief tank doesn’t have much left. In conversations with Mr. Stevens, the sentiment was mostly resignation, a belief that no matter how bad it gets, no one in power will do anything. Then I saw Steve Kerr’s video. The coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team was in Texas for the playoffs, 400 miles from Robb Elementary. His response was anguished, emotional, demanded action from the Senate, and then he slammed out of a press conference. The line that stood out, and kicked me out of my malaise, was “We can not get numb to this.” He is so right, we can not let ourselves get numb to this. We can not tolerate a country where this level of violence is acceptable. We must take action.
How? Two charts this week have influenced my thinking the most. The first is the amount of money spent on gun rights vs. gun control. Those of us who think that we need stronger gun control need to put our money where our mouth is. We are being outspent, significantly, by those who want to maintain the status quo. We need organizations like Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, or the Brady Campaign to become more powerful than the NRA.
The second is a chart that has nothing to do with guns, but was the first study to look at the impact of voting on reducing climate emissions. In research out of Australia, voting for a party that supported stronger climate action was 14X more effective than any other individual action you could take. If instead of carbon emissions, the outcome was gun deaths, my strong belief is that the same “dwarfing” of impact will hold. Every vote for a candidate who is stronger on gun control than the other, in either party, will have an outsize impact on reducing the death rate. So resist the temptation to see this situation as unsolvable. It does not have to be this way. Look to the history of guns in the UK or Australia or Germany for guidance on getting it right. Get involved. Make your voice heard. The lives you save by taking action might just belong to someone you love.