In the wake of the latest tragedy out of Florida, all at SPAN—each of us a parent, child, sibling, or friend—deeply mourn the February 14th murder of 17 students and teachers by a young man with legal access to a military-grade gun. Seventeen people. Fourteen children with dreams and promising futures. Three coaches and teachers who cared deeply for their students and died protecting them. Seventeen people whose lives were abruptly cut short by bullets from a gun capable of firing several rounds a minute. The shooter fired for three minutes.
We are troubled that gun violence has become an everyday news bite in the United States; reports of yet another incident are unsurprising and mundane, like the locations where these shootings occur. Banks, post offices, salons, churches, theaters, concerts, colleges, restaurants, malls—the places we live our lives—have become commonplace backdrops for attacks. The schools where our children spend 1/3 of their lives are not immune. In the first month and a half of 2018, there have already been 18 school shootings, yet we often don’t hear more than a passing commentary about each occurrence in the news. And with every Breaking News alert, our weary outrage and pleas for legislation fall on the deaf ears of lawmakers under the thumbs of the gun lobby, whose positions on gun control do not reflect the majority of the American public’s.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association for his gun control voting record. In 2014, he signed five pro-gun bills into law on one day. In 2016, when 49 people were murdered while dancing the night away, his response to queries about new legislation was, “I believe in the Second Amendment. I just wish there was no evil in the world.” In the aftermath of this latest event, and with the next gubernatorial election just months away, Scott finally announced that he would support some strengthening of gun control laws. But are his words just the empty platitudes of a reelection stump speech? How do we trust such statements when six days after the Parkland attack, the Florida state House stunningly voted down a ban on assault weapons?
Nowadays, we identify mass shootings simply by where they occurred: Aurora, Las Vegas, Charleston, Littleton, Orlando, San Bernadino, Virginia Tech. Newtown. An overwhelming helplessness resonates when we wonder: If babies lying dead on the floors of their classrooms in Sandy Hook Elementary School wasn’t enough to jolt Congress into passing sensible gun control laws, will anything ever be? “Thoughts and prayers” ring hollow when lawmakers have had decades to act yet consistently refuse to take three minutes to vote on common sense legislation. Talking points on bullying, depression, addiction, and the harms of social media dance around the deeper questions no one seems to be able, or willing, to answer: Why has America become such a violent place? and What is making American children the perpetrators of such actions against their peers?
Many have noted the correlation between legislators who oppose stricter gun control laws and receive campaign contributions from the NRA, but this is not the only reason it is easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to get a driver’s license. Most Americans across parties support preventing people with mental illnesses from buying guns, barring gun purchases by people on federal no-fly or watch lists, and background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows; however, only a minority of Republicans support banning high capacity magazines, which have no connection to self-defense or sport hunting. An important thing to note is that Americans who oppose stricter gun laws are more likely to contact public officials than those who support tightening regulations. That must change.
Three minutes grabs toast and a cup of coffee. Three minutes takes a quick shower. Three minutes brushes teeth clean. Three minutes reads a Valentine’s Day card and thanks the giver. Three minutes buckles seat belts as cars pull out of driveways. Three minutes kisses kids goodbye at drop off.
SPAN urges everyone who is concerned about these issues to take three minutes and contact their members of Congress at the state and federal levels to demand they act once and for all on curbing gun violence in the United States. While the relationship between gun violence and mental illness is low, take three minutes to support expanded and less stigmatizing access to mental health services in schools and communities. Three more minutes to sign a petition or two, text your state legislators, join an action group, register to march, support a bill, or learn to recognize the warning signs of a potentially violent individual and report them. Three minutes to reach out to your neighbors and community leaders and start a conversation about gun control and how we can end the Breaking News cycle on school shootings.
Three minutes is a short moment in time that alters lives. Three minutes just halted 17 heartbeats and broke the souls of a thousand loved ones left behind to grieve. Three minutes eradicated the innocence of the young survivors who will relive the horror every night in their sleep.
Three minutes lights the spark that blooms into the flame that burns into the sky the words: “#Enough…End the madness…Pass the laws!” Three minutes votes the toadies of special interest money out of office. Three minutes sends a walkout viral and proves our youth can lead us out of the pit toward sanity. Three minutes stretches into five, ten, a hundred minutes that hold our children ever closer and can’t let go for fear that tomorrow, three minutes will rip them away from us forever.
People who experience gun violence directly are not the only victims. With the constant barrage of news about school shootings, many children today are experiencing stress and PTSD from the fear that their school may be next. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides resources for supporting them and all victims, including information on providing services to children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events.