Following the Pulse Nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, I had the opportunity to help draft a regional statement from the Board of Health of several communities north of Boston. My hometown of Peabody was part of this region. This statement called for Congress to treat gun violence as a public health epidemic and allow the Centers for Disease Control to research its causes and effects.
But just because our school or my city takes a stance on gun violence does not mean this position is reflected nationally. Our role as students make us effective as politically active citizens not only of Boston, but our hometowns as well. We have the opportunity to become socially aware and engaged at school then bring that knowledge and activism home.
In the United States, change largely comes from the local level—so log on to the website of your town’s newspaper, find the opinion section, and write a letter to the editor. Share your outrage. If your contribution isn’t published, do it again. Get involved in gun violence prevention advocacy groups this summer. Get in touch with local public health officials and ask them to be proactive in their gun violence prevention efforts. Schedule meetings with your state legislators and lobby for stricter gun legislation which would allow law enforcement to confiscate firearms. Lead the charge in calling for comprehensive mental health care in our schools, workplaces, and communities. Make art and create content that uplifts voices impacted by gun violence.
You can make a difference economically as well—don’t support businesses or politicians that support the NRA. Demand underfunded schools get the money they need for books and materials instead of guns on teachers’ hips. Educate others on where gun violence intersects with race, gender, and economic inequality.
On a more personal level, talk with relatives or family friends who own guns. I grew up in a house with a gun—I understand the desire for protection and defense a gun can provide. But realistically, high-powered weapons designed to rapidly kill as many people as possible have no place in civilian life. Ask them if they know that, according to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, each year in America an average of 17,102 children and teens are shot and 2,737 of them die. As simple as it may seem, having these conversations with our friends and family can help spread support for gun reform.
And please, register to vote and encourage your friends to do so as well. Hold voter registration drives. If Congress will not do anything, then we must do something about Congress.
We can take our cue from local advocates spearheading innovative ways to curb gun violence. Last spring, I was moved by the work of a group of women from Boston. My nonprofit course planned a gala to benefit Operation LIPSTICK. Their mission is to reduce gun violence in Boston neighborhoods by stopping the straw purchasing of weapons, which is when men use women in their life to purchase a gun for them. The “LIPSTICK ladies” and their method for getting guns off Boston’s streets have led to opportunities to expand their program in Harlem and on the West Coast. Lately, in my volunteering with March For Our Lives, I have been inspired by students all over Boston who have turned similar feelings of frustration into a movement for a safer and more just America.
Progress is possible, though it might seem daunting. The Washington Post recently compared how other countries have responded to calls for reform in the wake of mass shootings. For example, following the 1996 massacre at the Dunblane school in Scotland—where a man shot and killed a teacher and 16 children between ages four and five—Britain passed the Firearms Amendment of 1997 and there has not been a school shooting since.
For decades, the call from communities of color to address gun violence has gone unanswered from so many elected officials. The walkout on March 14 and March For Our Lives on March 24 should not be our only demonstration or action for change. We are a school that consists of students from all over this country. The activism of young people changes the public conversations in places from the Deep South to the Midwest, not just the city of Boston.
Let’s make sure future generations do not have to witness their classes, churches, concerts, and neighborhoods filled with gunfire. Enough is enough.