Guns Aren’t Making Us Safer. Mothers Are

Nashville, Louisville, Dadeville, Jasper — the list of communities devastated by gun violence goes on. Some shootings you’ll hear about for days. Some won’t even make the evening news. Across the country, families are shouldering the unbearable weight of this American epidemic, and Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt. 

Since the start of this year, we’ve been inundated with seemingly endless news of mass shootings, school shootings, and countless other acts of gun violence in places where we should be safe. While many of these tragedies have gripped headlines, many of the stories of the more than 23,000 people killed or wounded by guns this year will go unheard.

In the past week alone, we’ve seen multiple simple misunderstandings result in the horrific shootings of young people — all because of a culture where people feel emboldened to shoot first and ask questions later. 

Ralph Yarl is a junior in high school. He’s a big brother and a talented bass clarinet player. But when he walked up to the wrong door to pick up his younger siblings, the white man on the other side of the glass didn’t see Ralph. He saw a Black teenager he perceived to be a threat. He
shot Ralph twice, once in the head and once more in the arm as he lay bleeding on the ground. Ralph never even got a chance to speak. 

Just two days later, 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was shot and killed when she and a group of friends mistakenly turned down the wrong driveway while looking for a friend’s house. The homeowner shot twice from the house, hitting and killing Kaylin. No one ever stepped foot outside the car or interacted with him in any way. One wrong turn became a death sentence.

Days later in Elgin, Texas, two high school cheerleaders, Payton Washington and Heather Roth, were shot and wounded outside a supermarket when their group of friends accidentally opened the door of the wrong car. When they rolled down a window to apologize for their mistake, their explanation was met with gunfire. 

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We’ve become all too familiar with the sirens, the terrified families waiting to be reunited with loved ones, the prayerful vigils and the solemn memorials. These traumatic sights and sounds have become routine markers of time here in America, painful reminders of the epidemic that has transformed our everyday reality into a uniquely American nightmare. 

The toll of this crisis on our youth is especially horrific. Guns have become the number one killer of American children, teens and young adults, and a record number of young people were shot last year. America has become a place where paranoid adults, armed with deadly weapons, feel empowered to shoot our children with no warning. 

It isn’t hard to see how we got here. The gun industry, right-wing politicians and their media allies have spent years stoking fear, sowing discord and warning that crime is around every corner. They’ve also fed their audience the lie that a gun is the only way to keep themselves safe. It’s pure self-interest — making people afraid of each other to increase gun sales, boost ratings and help elect far-right extremists. It’s never been about protecting people from crime — it’s always been about fueling racism. Sadly, it worked. The result is a heavily armed society that’s scared to death, on edge, and out of touch with reality.

So tell me, when do guns start making us safer? The truth is that they don’t. While the gun lobby and the industry it fights to protect have hinged their success on this lie, we know that more guns only lead to more death, more hurt and more pain. 

But while they fight to push their “guns everywhere” agenda, parents, young people, survivors, and others are fighting back.

This year marks a decade since the founding of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety and the nation’s largest volunteer network working to end gun violence. I’ve spent much of this year traveling the country, spending time in Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, and so many other states, meeting with the parents, gun violence survivors, students, community organizations and other gun safety advocates fighting for change. I’ve seen the way this public health crisis has profoundly impacted our families. I’ve seen how this epidemic has left deep scars from coast to coast. 

But I’ve also seen how in just 10 years, mothers and others have created a nation of fierce advocates, building on the foundation of activism that Black and brown women have been leading for decades. A nationwide network of grassroots volunteers and survivors are doing the hard and necessary work of grassroots activism that has made a difference legislatively, electorally, and culturally.

The impact has been profound.

We’ve changed the calculus on gun safety and turned good policy into good politics. We’ve pushed bipartisan policy makers on school boards, on city councils, in statehouses, and in Congress to act on gun safety, passing hundreds of laws to keep our families and communities safe. We’ve created a bench of volunteers who are going from advocating for policy to writing it, helping to take majorities in statehouses, in Congress and more. More than 275 volunteers and gun violence survivors ran in the 2021-22 election cycle — 158 of them won their races. 

The work is not easy. Change has not come as quickly or as often as we’d like. But the tide is shifting. And as communities around the country continue to be impacted by gun violence, we will continue to fight. 

Ten years after joining a fight so many told us was unwinnable, we’re looking ahead to the future — one where young people get a say in their safety and lawmakers who put gun lobby profits over people don’t get a seat at the table. 

We won’t stop fighting to make that world a reality. We’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with survivors, students, mayors, faith leaders, and lawmakers, fighting tirelessly for the country we deserve — a safer and better one than what the gun lobby has tried to create for us.

Angela Ferrell-Zabala is the Senior Vice President for Movement Building at Everytown for Gun Safety where she leads its grassroots network of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers.

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