255. That’s the number of mass shootings we have seen in America this year as of six days ago. Some organizations define a mass shooting as a shooting event where four or more people are killed. According to Gun Violence Archives, there have been 9,049 gun deaths this year alone. I know that it feels hopeless because I have felt hopeless about this issue. My hope is that generations to come will be surprised and appalled by these numbers because by then, hopefully, our government will have stepped in to do something.
I went to Washington, D.C. in May to lobby with Amnesty International for Lobby Day and one of the issues we lobbied on was universal background checks (H.R. 8- The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019). The legislative coordinators for my representatives (all Republican) were, unsurprisingly, not supportive. One of them mistakenly believed that this bill would somehow take away guns he already had. That’s not what this bill would do. Federal law already requires licensed dealers to conduct background checks. H.R. 8 would require unlicensed gun sellers to utilize this same system by requiring them to sell or transfer firearms only through licensed dealers.
Depending on how the question was asked in different polls, between 84-94% of registered voters support universal background checks for firearm purchases, so why hasn’t this been implemented yet? The short answer is the NRA. My two senators, specifically (Burr and Tillis), have received more money from the NRA than almost any others, with the NRA spending almost $7 million on Burr and $4.5 million on Tillis. The House passed H.R. 8 about five months ago, but Mitch McConnell, who has received $1.26 million from the NRA, has elected not to bring H.R. 8 up for a vote in the Senate.
I know this post will not be popular with some people, but the reality is that gun violence has reached epidemic proportions in the USA and we have to do something about it. Just this week, Amnesty International issued a travel advisory for the USA because of how pervasive gun violence is here. Some people argue that requiring background checks won’t prevent all gun violence- and they aren’t wrong- but shouldn’t we at least try to reduce gun violence in any way we can? Isn’t any reduction in gun violence an improvement?
The other piece that I wanted to address is the frankly astonishing number of people blaming mass shootings on mental health. This week, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York advocated making a database of people with mental health problems. There are SO MANY problems with that, starting with the fact that it would have virtually no effect on gun violence. Between 95-97% of violent crimes are carried out by people who do NOT have serious mental illnesses. Only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. People with mental illnesses are TEN (10!) times more likely to be VICTIMS of violent crime than our neurotypical friends and family members do. These shooters have many things in common- their belief in White Supremacy, their hatred of women, their fear of people who are different from them, a history of violence (particularly against women) but MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS.
You may be thinking, “ok, that all makes sense, but realistically, what can I do?” Here are some actionable items:
Call Mitch McConnell and urge him to hold a vote on H.R.8- (202) 224-2541
You can say “Hi, my name is ______________ and I want to tell Senator McConnell that he needs to hold a vote on AND support H.R. 8.”
Call your representatives and let them know you support H.R. 8- If you are in North Carolina, they are Tom Tillis ((919) 856-4630) and Richard Burr ((828) 350-2437). You can say, “Hello, my name is __________ and I am a constituent from __________, North Carolina. I’m urging the senator to support H.R. 8, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” If you have personal experience with gun violence, tell them about it. Personal stories make things more real to legislators.
Support Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan group working to end gun violence. According to their website, “Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. We pass stronger gun laws and work to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. We also work in our own communities and with business leaders to encourage a culture of responsible gun ownership. We know that gun violence is preventable, and we’re committed to doing what it takes to keep families safe.” Visit this link to find a chapter near you. I know the Asheville branch meets on the first Monday of each month at The Block Off Biltmore at 6pm.
If you’re exhausted after reading this and after watching the news this week, I feel you. I’m also exhausted and disheartened and occasionally feel hopeless. In the words of Glennon Doyle, “we can do hard things.” We can’t only contact our representatives following horrifying mass shootings. We have to tell them year round that we want an end to gun violence.