Four people were killed and 14 injured in a random shooting in Hesston, Kansas last Thursday. It’s okay if you didn’t know or if you didn’t do more than read the notification on your phone, think to yourself “what a shame,” and then move on. It’s what most of us probably did, myself included.
What if I told you that Hesston wasn’t the only community to experience a mass shooting last week – mass shooting being defined as four or more shot and/or killed in a single incident? Would your reaction change? What if I told you that there were, in fact, six towns in other states that saw mass shootings last week? What if I told you that there were 162 incidents of gun violence across the nation last Wednesday through Friday alone, resulting in 44 deaths and 105 injuries?
The point is that this isn’t just Hesston’s problem. It isn’t just Denver’s problem, where I’m from, or Kalamazoo’s, which also had a widely publicized shooting last weekend. America has a problem. Between 2000 and 2013 alone, the United States saw more deaths as a result of guns than AIDS, drug overdoses, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and terrorism combined.
This shouldn’t be normal.
Perhaps most upsetting of all is the lack of hope: the exasperation in our president’s voice as he continually calls for action on gun control after these mass shootings, the steadily increasing 62% of Americans dissatisfied with the nation’s gun policies, and the lack of substantive change.
We need a new normal. And if the current political climate is any indication, it’s not going to happen without a concerted effort by our politicians. Most importantly, we need something to be done soon, because every day that we sit by, an average of 89 more people are killed by gun violence.
So yes, it is easy to feel hopeless, to experience that fleeting moment of sadness for the victims of these incidents, their families, and their communities. But it’s also important to remember that we have an incredibly powerful tool at our disposal that should not be overlooked: our vote.
This is arguably the subject where we see the greatest difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And, like with most things, there is a lot of politicking on the issue and it can be hard to discern the truth. So let’s just stick with the facts:
Bernie Sanders voted five times against the Brady Handgun Bill, which had important provisions like stating it is illegal to sell a gun to someone without a background check or a five-day waiting period, requiring a statement by the purchaser they are not under indictment for a federal crime, addicted to a controlled substance, or a have a history of mental disorders, and authorizing federal grant money to improve and upgrade criminal records. He voted twice for what the head of the NRA called the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in the last 20 years protecting gun manufacturers, a bill that was seen by many as one of the most viable efforts in decades to significantly stem gun violence, and for an amendment that created the “Charleston Loophole” – so named because it is what allowed the Charleston shooter to get a gun before his background check was completed. Finally, he voted yes on a bill that made it harder to crack down on gun dealers who break the law, and to overturn a ban on guns on Amtrak trains.
And what does the Sanders campaign have to say about it? Not much, apparently. In a press release from October, the campaign said they were putting together a “comprehensive package of measures” to address gun violence in the United States. Yet, four months later, we still have not seen any substantive policy proposals. Fighting gun violence is not even on his more than 20-position-long issue page on his website.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, repeatedly cosponsored and voted for legislation to close the gun show loophole, require criminal background checks on all firearm transactions, and reinstate the assault weapons ban. She opposed the NRA-backed law shielding gun manufacturers, and has consistently supported the Brady Bill. And most notably, she not only has an exhaustive plan to end gun violence in America, she has given the issue the attention it needs and deserves if we truly are to see change. It’s no wonder that 16 key advocates and reformers support Hillary Clinton’s efforts – including Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the President of one of the foremost gun violence prevention organizations in the country, and Senator Chuck Schumer.
We can and should argue about the nuances of potential legislation, but the first step is having the discussion at all. Something’s got to give if we want to see an end to these tragedies, but it’s not going to if we sit by and wait or let gun violence be anything but a central issue – the kind of central issue Hillary Clinton intends to make it. Our lives depend on it.
– Amanda Brockbank
Contact Amanda Brockbank at amandab7 ‘at’ stanford.edu.