When I began serving in the United Church of Christ Washington office, gun violence prevention was one of my areas of policy focus. It was the early 1990s and, together with other faith-based and secular partners, we worked to pass the 1994 Assault Weapons ban. It expired ten years later, and efforts to reinstate the ban have been unsuccessful, despite subsequent gun violence tragedies.
Over the years our nation has continued to experience the terrible toll of gun violence on a daily basis, in numbers almost too staggering to imagine. I remember reading an article in the November 1, 1993 Washington Post titled “Getting Ready to Die Young,” by DeNeen L. Brown. It began by telling the story of Jessica Bradford, who was at the time a sixth-grade student in Washington, DC. “Jessica Bradford knows five people who have been killed. …she has told her family that if she should get shot before her sixth-grade prom, she wants to be buried in her prom dress. Jessica is 11 years-old. She has known since she was in fifth grade what she wanted to wear at her funeral.” Our society continues to accept this as the norm.
In 2000, the Million Mom March Against Gun Violence buoyed advocates for gun violence prevention. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the National Mall to call upon Congress to take meaningful steps to reduce gun violence. Mothers of all backgrounds held pictures of children and family members lost to gun violence. The toll of gun violence continued to mount.
Then there was the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013, which resulted in the death of 20 children and six teachers. I thought, surely we would see some movement on meaningful gun violence legislation then, whether through strengthening background checks, closing the gun show loophole, or banning assault weapons and high capacity weapon magazines. Congress failed to act.
Lately, people have been asking me, “well, you’ve worked on gun violence prevention all these years, do you think the response to the February 14th school shooting in Parkland, FL, will be different? Is there something different about the current movement on gun violence prevention that will lead to meaningful change?
There is plenty of “inside the Beltway” analysis and prediction going on, but here’s what I know: The students who are currently mobilizing around the country for sensible gun violence prevention truly believe it when they say “Never Again” will there be another mass school shooting. In this they are united with generations of advocates who dare to believe another world is possible.
I am reminded of the words of activist Rebecca Solnit: “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.”
What I know is that believing another world is possible, and living that out day in and day out, is a powerful thing. That power isn’t unique to any one-generation or movement; it is available to any of us who dare to use it.
Sandy Sorensen is the Director of the United Church of Christ Washington Office.