Commentary: The Parkland Students Have Had Enough. Why Haven’t My Colleagues in Congress?
“We did not ask
To witness the murders
Of the children
We played with at recess
We did not know
That our teacher
Had taught us our final lesson
And we believed her
When she said
The red spilling from her foot
Was only paint”
Those are the words of Geneva Cunningham, a ninth grader who witnessed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting when she was only in the fourth grade. Geneva’s father gave me her poem in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, though Geneva wrote it just days before the shooting occurred.
This is the voice of a child who has witnessed murder. How have we allowed this to become normal in America? Geneva’s poem is beautiful—and she never should have had to write it. But this is the world we live in—a world where NRA dollars drive decisions, sales for bulletproof backpacks are soaring, and 14 year olds have seen their teachers and friends die at school.
Congressional Republicans seem to be okay with living in this world—they offer thoughts and prayers on Twitter, and block any attempt to debate meaningful, popular gun violence reduction reforms.
But the children of this country, in Parkland, Florida and beyond, have said: Enough; this is not the future we want to live in. And they are doing something about it—with school walkouts and brave speeches, even in the face of unspeakable trauma. I applaud their bravery, and will fight by their side day in and day out in the Congress. Why can children act, but not members of Congress? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have a thing or two to learn from these high-schoolers about what real leadership looks like.
There have been too many caskets and not enough action. First, we must ban assault weapons—they have no place in our society. I was struck by the account of Dr. Heather Sher, who worked on the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. She has been a radiologist for 13 years, and when she saw the wounds inflected by an AR-15 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, she wrote: “I pray that these are the last such wounds I have to see, and that AR-15-style weapons and high-capacity magazines are banned for use by civilians in the United States, once and for all.”
Make no mistake: The repeal of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 was not driven by the people—it was driven by NRA dollars.
We also need to ban high-capacity magazines, require background checks for every commercial gun sale, and close the “gun show” loophole. We need to be able to hold gun manufacturers accountable for crimes committed with their guns. We must provide additional mental health resources and fund mental health programs sufficiently, so that people get the help they need. These reforms are not fringe ideas, despite what the NRA will pay their supporters to say. They are popular, common-sense reforms.
And finally, we need to conduct research on the causes of gun violence. The American Medical Association has called gun violence a “public health crisis.” Research is a critical part of any public health emergency—but unfortunately, research on gun violence is effectively banned. What are Congressional Republicans so afraid of?
As Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez said so poignantly: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because…we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
I pray she is right—but it is on Congress to provide more than thoughts and prayers for a change. If they can’t, I know some students who can teach them a thing or two.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro represents Connecticut’s Third Congressional District. DeLauro is the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.