When I was in high school, I was on the school newspaper’s staff. Part of the course requirement was that we had to write at least one article from each category: current affairs, school news, feature, entertainment, sports, and the one I was dreading: opinion.
Putting myself out there with an opinion, much less one that would be available for any of the 2,000 students at the school to read was terrifying for me. (Yes, the irony is not lost on me.) Nevertheless, to get credit, I had to do it. Half of the school year had gone by and I couldn’t come up with a topic that I felt strongly enough to write about.
Until the Stockton, California shooting. In January of 1989, a gunman with an extended criminal history walked onto the playground of an elementary school of predominantly Southeast Asian children and opened fire. He killed 5 kids and wounded 32 others. I had only lived in the States for a couple of years at that point and this incident shook me to my core. In the country where I grew up, not even police officers carried guns. When I learned how easy it was for the perpetrator to buy guns, and that no background check had been performed, I was incensed.
I did some research on the topic and wrote up my opinion piece. I argued that background checks should be mandated for all gun purchases. It ran in that Friday’s issue. I felt good about it until … the following Friday when another student wrote a scathing response to my opinion piece spouting all the stuff we’re seeing today following the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. You’ve seen their arguments — that the 2nd Amendment right shouldn’t be restricted in any way, background checks won’t save lives, blah blah blah.
I didn’t know it then, but it was a window into what I’d see in this country every time there was horrific gun violence. At the time, I was just mortified that someone was calling me out on my opinion — it was literally the thing I was most scared of. (Just so you know, our school newspaper almost NEVER had any op-eds written by non-journalism students. So this student’s column got talked about. A lot.)
The saving grace of this story was that the following Friday, yet another student wrote an op-ed for the newspaper excoriating the previous student’s argument, shredding them one by one with logic and research. It was then that I understood the power of speaking out. There would be others who would rally by your side, but only if you made your stance known.
Which brings me to today. I have cared about gun reform for a very long time. And every time one of these incidents happen, I get right up to the precipice of despair — that hollowed out feeling that we are stuck with this violence and nothing will ever cure us of this disease. But the reason why I don’t fall into that dark well is because I know the only way out is to take action. And so I take action. I call my Senators. I’ve been donating to, and subscribed to, Moms Demand Action for a while. And they aren’t the first gun reform organization I’ve been involved with. Although we haven’t been able to enact any federal legislation in a long time, we have been able to make progress and get sensible gun reform laws and regulations passed at local and state levels every year.
The history of guns in America is long and complicated. But we can’t give up when it seems hopeless. If we do, then all hope is lost. This is the only way I know how to cope. Taking action is the only way out.
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