Suffice it to say that this year has been very painful. It was difficult in August to watch the coverage of the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and not feel profoundly sad and angry. The violence that was inflicted on these communities is heartbreaking but unfortunately unsurprising.
These shootings, and the hundreds that have preceded and followed them this year, were preventable. Sensible and practical gun control legislation languishes in Congress because members of Republican leadership in the House and Senate are more beholden to the NRA and its millions of dollars in campaign contributions than they are to the safety and well-being of American families. There is a bipartisan consensus in America’s towns and cities that Congress can and should place meaningful limits on gun ownership. The failure of our leaders to act on this clear-cut popular sentiment is the result of nothing more than a combination of cowardice and avarice.
But the gun massacres that have taken place over this past decade have not been just about guns. Just as problematic as the easy access to weapons of war is the sick and dangerous philosophy that motivated the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, and a historical black church three years earlier. What occurred in those incidents were acts of domestic terrorism driven by white supremacy. The intent of the shooters was clear: to inflict death and terror on Latinos, Jews and African Americans. Some may be tempted to see these shooters' actions as simply the acts of deranged people. Draping any of these shooters in the mantle of a “lone, sick gunman” only seeks to avert attention away from the ways many of our national leaders have not only stoked white nationalist actions but also been complicit with them.
One need only to look at the words and statements of President Trump since the first day of his election campaign to find the stark commonalities that exist with the language used by the El Paso shooter in his so-called manifesto. We have long warned the President, and his enablers in Congress, and the media that words have consequences – that the drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric grounded in dehumanizing language can only lead to violence. In El Paso, sadly, we saw the deadly effects caused by leaders trading in the language of hate.
President Trump also promised to get Republicans in the Senate to work on a series of gun control measures back in August. Of course, we knew those were just empty words to carry the President and the GOP leadership through until the spotlight on these massacres faded away. Gun profiteering and the political donations that those profits make possible continue to hold sway over the health and will of the majority of the American people.
It’s an intractable problem -- or so it has been for decades on end. But young change activists are not fading away! They are turning the issue of gun violence (and climate change) into issues that may very well define a new generation and the future politics of our nation. While still low, youth voter turnout jumped to 31% in 2018 – an increase of ten percentage points over the last midterm elections. According to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, approximately 50% of eligible young people – about 24 million youth, ages 18-29 – voted in the 2016 general election. If the youth vote follows the trend of recent years, and increases to around 65% in the general elections, that will mean 7 million more youth will vote in the 2020 General Elections than in 2016. That means millions more of American voters focused on voting in politicians who support gun control and voting those who don’t out of office.
We need to do our best to support and empower our young people to register, mobilize and get out to vote. They represent the best chance for us to bring about change in our nation’s gun policies and so many other critical issues. A major plank of our civic engagement work next year will be focused on doing exactly that. We hope many of you will join us in that effort and help our young people lead us to a brighter and healthier future. For more information on our policy advocacy and voter mobilization work, please contact Jessica Orozco.