The Honorable Nita Lowey U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative Lowey,
A Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
On April 20th, 1999, two teenage boys murdered 13 of their classmates at Columbine High School with a 67H pump-action shotgun and a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. Eight years later on April 14th, 2007, 32 lives on the college campus of Virginia Tech were taken by another senseless act of mass violence, this one committed with a 9mm Glock 19 and a .22 Walther P22. In 2012, just eleven days before Christmas, 20 elementary school students and six teachers were shot and killed by a troubled young man with an arsenal of a shotgun, a rifle, and two different handguns. These children were between the ages of 6 and 7 years old. And now, a month ago, an AR-15 assault weapon stole the lives of 17 high school students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Every single one of these guns was purchased legally. After countless tragedies, the American public hears the same arguments: do guns kill people or do people kill people? Is the solution a matter of more strictly regulating guns or more easily dispensing guns? Is it justified to “politicize” a national tragedy? These same questions encircle us, immersing us in debates that are never resolved with sensible solutions, only more clearly drawn political platforms and bitter divides. Americans killed or affected by gun violence have been of all parties, genders, faiths, races and creeds. We have been blinded by our political barriers, blaming each other and finding fault in proposed resolutions, rather than reaching across the aisle and recognizing that we are all fighting for the same thing. Sensible gun regulations are not partisan –
Americans have the same goal, the same hope: no man, woman, or child in the United States should be fearful that their life will be taken by any person carrying a loaded weapon. No student or teacher should have to go to school fearful for their safety or of finding themselves in the midst of crossfire. No classroom should resemble a war zone. No teacher should be expected to act as a soldier, and it is a tautology that no parent should fear for their child’s life when dropping them off at school.
The very first words in the Second Amendment are, “A well regulated Militia”. How many acts of gun violence must occur before we admit that the regulations in place do not do nearly enough? When someone’s right to bear arms infringes upon everyone’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, we must take a critical look at who we are as a society, as a nation – what do we prioritize? Do we value the lives of schoolchildren the same as we value access to guns? The link between lack of sensible gun regulations and gun-related deaths has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. The implementation of an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment has led to exponentially greater levels of gun violence in the United States than in any other civilized nation.
Every day, we go to school with fear. We meticulously plan escape routes in the event that a tragedy should occur on our very own campus. We flinch at school announcements and even doubt the fire alarms that intend to protect us. We stand for moments of silence in school, we make small changes in protocols and safety measures, and we let the conversation wane. Most of all, we wait. We wait so that just like Sandy Hook, after a certain number of months, we move on and forget. So that we don’t feel the need to worry about alternative escape routes or malevolent fire alarms. So that we feel safe enough that conversation is no longer necessary, the legislative change we advocated is no longer imperative, that the massacre of children in schools just like ours can be forgotten.
We will not wait any longer. We will fight until that fear is eradicated, until that conversation has no more talking points. We will NOT forget the hundreds of lives lost to your inaction, until our voices are heard and reforms are made. We are tired of watching our representatives deflecting attempts at meaningful gun reform with “thoughts and prayers”. We are frustrated by their failure to invoke any reasonable changes to our gun laws, and we are enraged by their refusal to hear our voices crying out for change, and their dismissal on the basis of our age. Sometimes we don’t need advice; we need our representatives to listen. And now, more than ever, we hope that you are listening clearly when we say that we have had enough. Without voices there will be no action, and without action nothing can improve.
It is too easy to lose faith in ourselves, to say that the current political climate renders our democracy useless as we bicker, blame, and obfuscate around any solutions. We cannot lose faith. Not in our representatives, not in our democracy, and certainly not in ourselves. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter.” We refuse to be silent. In spite of everything, we believe that the great promise of American society, a promise to always work on bettering ourselves, our communities, and our nation, still remains ardent in all of us.
Gun violence is not a problem that will resolve itself, nor is it a danger that we can afford to dismiss. It has struck at the heart of too many families, too many communities, and for far too long. The American public is fed up; we are fed up. We cannot invoke change on our own, but we can make our voices heard, something we fully intend to do. Now it is up to you. The time for gun reform legislation is now. Our voices will not fade, nor will we disappear from the conversation. It is time for the American government to prioritize the safety of the public, even if this means at the expense of lobbyists and corporations.
We would like to remind you that we are the future voters of America. Candidates are accustomed to people voting on the basis of NRA support, but from now on, we can assure you of a new voting bloc against those who put the agenda of a gun lobby before our rights and freedoms. Each and every one of our votes will serve as a stinging reminder of this.
Until every student can walk into a school without fearing for their safety, until every teacher can focus on providing the best education in their classroom without worrying if they locked their door should an intruder come in, and until our government can deliver more than just thoughts and prayers in the wake of a national tragedy, we will not be silenced.
We know that America can do better, and we intend to ensure that a safer society is provided to us all. If we work together to achieve a safer, more perfect Union, we can and will change the course that we are on. We are begging you to put our concerns, our safety, and our future first. The best time to pass sensible gun regulations was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
The people you serve: Irvington and Tarrytown High School Students