Next Sunday, Dec. 14, will mark the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when 20 children and 6 educators were shot to death in cold blood less than two miles from my childhood home.
Since that day, I have had so many people express disappointment to me about our failure to reform our nation’s gun safety laws. Every time I go home and witness the unabated suffering of my friends who lost loved ones in the tragedy, I am reminded of how much work still needs to be done.
Indeed, the national media is correct in saying that our epidemic of gun violence in the United States has continued since the shooting at Sandy Hook. Over 32,000 Americans are still killed by guns every year. Most worrisome for us here at Georgetown, there have been 95 other shootings in the past two years where firearms have been discharged on school or on campus grounds across the country.
Despite these horrific statistics, we have made progress since Sandy Hook. Although Congress has failed to pass any federal legislation to address the epidemic, reform in half a dozen states including Connecticut, New York, Maryland and California means that over half of all Americans are now protected by stronger gun violence prevention laws. Pressure by increasingly well-funded, influential advocacy groups like Everytown for Gun Sense, Moms Demand Action and Americans for Responsible Solutions have succeeded in convincing companies such as Starbucks, Chipotle, Target, Sonic, and Chili’s to adopt common sense policies that keep guns out of their stores. On Nov. 4 of this year, voters in Washington state chose by overwhelming majority to pass a ballot referendum for universal background checks for gun sales. In a country where approximately 40 perecent of gun sales go on without a federal background check, this progress is essential in making sure that more dangerous weapons are kept out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and the mentally ill.
These successes would not have been possible without the coming together of an unprecedented coalition of new advocates. More young people, teachers, moms, dads, whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians — people of all backgrounds who have in some shape or form been touched by gun violence — have joined one another to strive for reform. I could not be prouder to call myself a part of this family of people who transformed their pain into positive action. As more and more Americans will realize in the coming years, Sandy Hook changed everything. It created a movement.
In putting Congress on the backburner, the leaders of our movement have chosen to directly appeal to the 90 percent of Americans who agree that background checks make common sense and should be mandatory. Building on our success with companies like Starbucks and the ballot initiative outcome in Washington state, we will go company by company, state by state and even town by town to make sure that guns are kept out of the places and the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Those who care about this issue refuse to give up in the face of congressional cowardice. And the moment will come in the near future where Congress can no longer ignore the 90 percent of us who want to see real change, who want to make our communities safer for ourselves and our loved ones.
As I said before, there have been 95 school shootings since Sandy Hook, most recently at UC Santa Barbara and at Florida State University just a couple weeks ago. My fellow Hoyas, this issue is not just personal for me, but for you as well. Seven college students have been killed by on-campus shooters in the past six months. That is why it is so important for us here at Georgetown to pay attention to this problem and to encourage our friends at other universities to do so as well. Your part to play could be as simple as starting a conversation with others about the importance of this issue, posting a relevant article to Facebook, or even learning more about organizations in D.C. or on campus that advocate for gun violence prevention. We as college students are literally on the front lines of the fight for gun safety in America.
In the next week, I encourage you to remember Sandy Hook and what thousands of Americans have gone through since then. Remember not just the horror of the tragedy, but remember to honor the little ones who will never get the chance to grow up and go to college like us.
Use your Georgetown education and values to make a difference. Act to make sure that no community in America, whether it be a town, an elementary school, a high school or even a university, ever has to experience what my hometown went through. Remember what we stand to lose if we continue to do nothing.
Emma Iannini is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and President and Co-Founder of Georgetown Against Gun Violence. Sarah Clements, COL ’18, Vice President and Co-Founder of Georgetown Against Gun Violence contributed to this article.