“What if” we cut gun deaths in half by 2025?
By Mary S. Johnson / San Diegans For Gun Violence Prevention
What if we could create a bipartisan coalition to prevent another mass shooting in the United States?
Four student survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting climbed onto buses, boarded airplanes, and juggled study time after traveling to California to work on preventing another mass shooting from taking place in the United States. On September 20 they brought their urgent activism to San Diego.
As I listened to them share their stories with a bipartisan audience of law enforcement, legislative, media and gun violence prevention professionals, I thought, “What if they and other survivors of school shootings could be just normal, teenage students?”
It has been only seven months since 17 students and staff were killed and 17 were wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. What if legislators and adults had spent those seven months seriously working to ensure the safety of the nation’s students and teachers at their schools?
After hearing the heartbreaking stories of these students, I could not help but think back to my first teaching job over 20 years ago in California when two of my favorite students in the school were killed in gang violence. Hearing the student accounts the other night and their honest requests for more legislative and adult support to change the social environment around gun safety, I could not help but feel ashamed that the students were shouldering so much of the burden.
“Schools should not be a place where someone has to survive. We need to take back our schools.”
What if every adult in this country had the courage to not look away, to secure any guns in their homes, to make sure that their mental health is strong, to educate their families about Gun Violence Restraining Orders, and to learn to ask the awkward questions about safe gun storage when dropping off children at a friend’s home?
California is leading the country in finding solutions to prevent gun violence. From 1993 to 2016, California’s firearm mortality rate has declined by 56%, more than three times the decrease in the rest of the nation. The California legislature and Governor Brown have signed nine firearm bills into law over the past few weeks. AB 2222 gives law enforcement tools to improve the tracing of recovered firearms into a state database within seven days. SB 1100 increases the age to purchase rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21. And SB 1200 will improve the Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) by waiving service fees and ensuring all firearms and magazines are stored when an order is issued to people at risk of harming themselves or others.
The direct words of the four students cut straight to the horror of the mass shooting. Sam Zeif, Dylan Kraemer, Kai Koerber, and Julia Cordovera have channeled their loss into leading the country forward through the #March for Our Lives movement, the Brady campaign, the Societal Reform Corporation, voter registration, and the #Never Again movement. Julia powerfully stated, “Schools should not be a place where someone has to survive. We need to take back our schools.” What if schools were like that again?
The San Diego gathering focused on how we can work together to enact change in support of our children’s safety. Student survivors were joined by Mara Elliot, San Diego City Attorney; Avery Gardiner, Co-President of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Harry Litman, law professor, and Jeff Vespa, Filmmaker and #What If Campaign Founder. The campaign videotaped teen survivors recording their “What if?” questions after the mass shooting.
What if the children of America become more powerful than our politicians?
What if politicians actually listened to the concerns of my generation?
What if politicians stopped taking money from the NRA?
Yes, “What if?”
Mary S. Johnson has worked for over 15 years in educational reform working to create schools in California that support the creativity and curiosity of children. She completed her BA at Princeton University and her MA at Stanford University.