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  • Todd Strasser

A Letter to Young People Regarding Gun Control


The letter serves as the endnote for the new 20th anniversary edition of Give a Boy a Gun.


Dear Reader,

I am writing this endnote just days after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas on Aug 3, and in Dayton, Ohio, on Aug 4, 2019. In a span of less than twenty-four hours, the lives of thirty-one ordinary everyday people like you and me were abruptly ended, while dozens more were wounded. The dead included teenagers, parents, and grandparents. Their only mistake was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They died without warning, never to see their loved ones again. The younger victims, people like yourselves, perished before they’d had much of a chance to live.


Here’s a quote from a Boston Globe editorial inspired by those shootings: “America is sick. And it’s getting sicker. Sick with hate, sick with rage. Sick with warped masculinity, sick with Internet-fueled radicalization and social isolation. Sick with racism, sick from social media that has breathed new life into old prejudices. And sick, of course, with guns.”


It truly pains me to have to share that quote with you. It pains me to think that this is the condition of the country you are growing up in. Young people should not have to live in fear for their lives each time they leave their homes. They should not have to think about the possibility of being slaughtered at school, or in a place of worship, or at the mall.


And yet, in spite of this terrible state of affairs, I see reason for hope. And that hope resides with you. For the first time since my own years as a teenager, when hundreds of thousands of us marched against the War in Vietnam, the young people of this country are banding together in protest. At the forefront of this movement is the student-run March For Our Lives, organized in 2018 after a gunman armed with a legally-purchased semiautomatic rifle left a swath of death and injury through the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.


March For Our Lives has been instrumental in registering thousands of young voters, in the hope that these young people will vote for greater gun control. MFOL also helped defeat numerous National Rifle Association-backed candidates during the 2018 midterm elections. In addition, they have organized marches and rallies, and have enlisted corporate sponsors in the fight for stronger gun laws. They have created A Peace Plan For A Safer America and are circulating petitions to support it. The plan demands that gun owners be licensed the same way car drivers are; that semiautomatic assault weapons, which were banned by the US Congress from 1994 to 2004, once again be banned; and that a national buy-back program be instituted to reduce the number of privately-owned firearms in this country.


The founders of March For Our Lives are the survivors of the Parkland massacre, and in their communications to the public is the phrase “created by survivors so you don’t have to be one.” It is early August 2019, and thus far this year there have been twenty-two random mass shootings in this country – roughly one every two weeks. One hundred and twenty-five innocent everyday people have been murdered, their lives cut short, their loved ones left bereft and devastated. And many more victims have been injured. According to the Washington Post, there are nearly 400 million privately-owned guns in our country of 330 million people. No other country in the world comes has close to having that many firearms per capita, nor does any other country suffer nearly the number of indiscriminate mass shootings we have in the United States.


Only the willfully blind can fail to see the correlation.


The young people of this country were also dying unnecessarily in the 1960s. Back then it was due to an immoral and unnecessary war. In response, citizens banded together and fought back against a government that had become complicit with the military-industrial complex. People protested, marched, engaged in civil disobedience, and voted for candidates who opposed the war. Thanks to their efforts, the war ended and lives were spared. The same can happen today. By joining March For Our Lives and groups like it, young people can make their voices heard by registering to vote, and helping others to register. They can elect politicians and CAN effect change in a government that has become a pawn of the National Rifle Association.


This year, roughly 40,000 Americans will be killed by firearms in homicides, suicides and accidents. Nearly 3,000 of them will be children and teens, and an additional 15,600 will be injured.


In 2016, Brandon Wolf was with his two best friends in the Pulse nightclub on the night forty-nine people were shot to death. He managed to survive, but both of his friends were killed. In 2018, following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Brandon addressed this country and the politicians who run it: “After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we're here again. Seventeen people are dead. Fourteen of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”


Brandon Wolf spoke the sorry truth: politicians won’t do a damn thing about mass shootings in this country … unless they are forced to. Unless their jobs are threatened. The more young people who register, and vote for pro-gun control candidates, the more people protest and march and raise their voices against unsympathetic politicians, the more likely it is that a real change in gun laws can be accomplished. Until then, the only thing that will change is the rising numbers of dead and injured in mass shootings. Just days after a gunman entered her school in Parkland, Florida, and killed seventeen people, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said this at a gun-control rally in Fort Lauderdale: “If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”


Amen.


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