A total of 254 mass shootings have occurred in America so far this year, yet the response from lawmakers is always the same: It begins with a click on Twitter and ends as soon as their fingertips hit “tweet.”
American legislators have developed a well-worn protocol after innocent lives have been lost to the cold grip of gun violence — a cut-and-pasted tweet of condolences — creating a relentless cycle of meaningless talking points and stagnant politics on social media.
The result is no real action taken and more people killed in preventable acts of violence. Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of fueling this protocol. I witnessed it after the shooting at my high school last year, when a gunman shot and killed 17 of my classmates and faculty in Parkland, Florida. In the aftermath, my classmates and I organized one of the biggest marches in Washington and across the country, demanding gun reform and change. And yet the cycle continues.
On Saturday, 21 people were killed and more than two dozen were injured when a gunman stormed a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Less than 24 hours later, another shooter killed nine people and injured at least 27 in a busy bar area in Dayton, Ohio. In addition to these mass shootings, dozens became victims of gun violence this weekend from suicide, domestic violence, robbery, and assault — but these incidents go unseen in the media because of their frequency.
While the communities and families of these victims and survivors will spend the rest of their lives coping with such an impossible loss, lawmakers spent mere minutes of their weekend composing tweets to denounce these killings. Two-hundred-eighty characters of hollow empathy is not enough, and will never be enough, when our neighbors are gunned down in churches, schools, festivals, and just about anywhere in America.
Somehow, following one mass shooting after another, our elected officials have gotten away with providing solace through tweets and avoiding accountability at the expense of human life. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 33,188 gun-related incidents happened so far this year; in 2018, incidents reached 57,396. American lawmakers need to do better.
Five months ago, the House of Representatives passed HR 8. If signed into law, it would require a background check for every firearm sale. The fate of the bill is currently in the hands of the Senate, which has yet to vote on it and is now in recess. However, America cannot waste any more time when we have a gun violence epidemic spiraling out of control in our streets, schools, stores, and neighborhood gatherings.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he often does, weighed in on the mass shootings this weekend in the form of tweets instead of action. McConnell could instead call the Senate for an emergency session to vote on gun reform, which is what Democrats are asking of him. It’s almost as if our politicians have forgotten that their constituents have voted them in to keep the founding principles of our nation intact — when instead, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been robbed from gun violence victims.
Unfortunately, passing universal background checks will not end the gun violence epidemic, but it is a step. With the number of mass shootings and innocent lives taken, Congress members must educate themselves on policies. More often than not, our local and federal legislators assume we already have the gun control laws we would consider commonsense, but we don’t.
For example, the police department visited the Parkland shooter’s house nearly 40 times before the shooting. They had no legal way to make him relinquish his firearms despite clear and convincing evidence he was a danger to himself and others.
After the shooting, Florida passed Extreme Risk Protection Orders, giving law enforcement the ability to temporarily take away firearms from those who are having a behavioral crisis. This law only exists in 15 states out of 50. I have encountered numerous state representatives who assumed this type of law was already on the books where they govern, when in fact it is not. How can we trust our politicians to do their job when even they do not know the policies that can save the lives of hundreds of Americans every year?
The solution to gun violence is complex and requires more thoughtful attention than tweeted prayers. When lawmakers default to Twitter — when they believe tweets are enough to settle public uproar until the next mass shooting — it’s a slap in the face to victims and survivors. It lacks genuine empathy. It shows they are not committed to doing what they were elected to do.
Lawmakers at the state and federal level have the power to save lives. But they are failing, and if they continue to do so, we can show them in 2020 that we won’t stand for it anymore.
Kyra Parrow is a first-term college student in Orlando, Florida. She has co-founded an organization led by survivors and youth across the nation called Zero USA, which works toward the goal of zero deaths from preventable gun violence.