Editor’s Note: Editor’s note: Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the author of “Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World.” The opinions in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion at CNN.com
These days, it’s impossible to celebrate – or even gather – in American communities without fear, including in places of worship, inside our cars, at grocery stores, the mall, or even in our schools. There was no clearer example of that than the shooting one week ago that pierced the sense of collective joy during Fourth of July holiday festivities in the town of Highland Park, Illinois.
Thanks to the gun lobby’s “guns everywhere” agenda, none of us are safe anywhere.
Last week, as many Americans gathered to celebrate Independence Day, we witnessed the deadly reality that, despite the gun lobby’s false claims, more guns in more places does not make us more safe or more free. And the gun lobby was not just at the root of the violence in Highland Park that left seven people dead following a shooting by a young gunman armed with a high-powered weapon.
It’s been behind the wave of mass shootings – Uvalde, Buffalo and countless others – that have added to the relentless epidemic of bloodshed, an epidemic compounded by a series of reckless decisions from federal and state courts.
All the more reason why it was important Monday for those of us fighting against gun violence to take stock of the victories we’re amassing – small and large – in the effort to keep our communities safe.
The gathering that President Joe Biden held at the White House was a celebration 30 years in the making – marking the first major gun legislation enacted in a generation and a half. It was a hard-fought win. And it came against the backdrop of a seemingly endless barrage of bloodshed and sacrifice.
After the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, a bipartisan group of senators – many of whom joined us at the White House today – broke the nearly 30-year logjam and passed an important first step in addressing this crisis. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes important gun safety, mental health and school safety provisions, such as $750 million in funding for red flag laws and crisis intervention services, enhanced background checks for buyers under 21, and after far too long, finally addresses the dating partner loophole.
President Biden put it well in his remarks when he said that the gun bill “is a call to action to all of us to do more.”
Every day in the United States, on average 110 lives are stolen by gun violence, with hundreds more wounded. Some of these shooting tragedies make the headlines – like the mass shooting in Highland Park or the horrific shooting of Jayland Walker in Akron, Ohio – but many more lives are cut short without the public ever learning the names of all the dead, like the 10 people killed and several dozen wounded in Chicago, just a short drive from Highland Park, during the Independence Day holiday weekend.
Our gun violence epidemic didn’t materialize out of thin air. After all, America has a gun homicide rate 26 times higher than any peer nation. For years, politicians have essentially allowed gun lobbyists to write our nation’s federal and state gun laws. A member of the NRA’s board of directors recently encapsulated the group’s wrongheaded thinking, asserting the view that everyone should be armed “anytime, anywhere.” The problem is compounded by a combination of supremacist ideologies and a culture of toxic masculinity.
The gun industry has played a major role in this crisis by marketing weapons of war to the masses and avoiding any accountability for the results. And less than three weeks ago, the US Supreme Court issued a dangerous decision — out of line with the majority of public opinion — making it easier to carry loaded weapons in public in New York state, including the kinds of weapons used to slaughter innocent bystanders in Highland Park.
Despite the reckless behavior of some lawmakers and judges, the American public – including law enforcement – opposes this lawlessness, but the gun lobby and its enablers are hellbent on removing even the most basic of gun safety measures.
But there is hope. In addition to the new federal gun law celebrated at the White House, states and cities are taking action.
In just the past few weeks we’ve seen lifesaving legislation signed into law in New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, California, and New Jersey. Cities in states like Colorado and Oregon are passing ordinances that go even further to protect communities from gun violence. And in states where dangerous gun laws are being enacted, like a new Ohio law allowing teachers to carry weapons in schools, even school districts are acting to prevent guns in schools.
That gives us cause for optimism. And a reason to hold celebrations like the one in the White House, marking our small victories – and big ones like the one we celebrated Monday – as we take the fight to the gun lobby.
If we want to continue to see meaningful change, we need to commit to out-organizing, out-working and out-voting the gun lobby. We’ve seen in just the past few weeks that bipartisan progress is possible. Action is possible. Those who are joining our movement and saying enough is enough are making a difference. And now is the time to keep going, at every level of government.
In the coming months, we will work to pass a prohibition on the sale of weapons of war in Illinois. We will work to ensure the funding provided in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is used to implement red flag laws, and that families and law enforcement know how to use them. And we will continue to work to unlock and allocate funds for community violence intervention programs, which help reduce the daily gun violence that represents the majority of gun violence in America.
We have the right as Americans to be free of violence and fear. But freedom isn’t being ruled by an industry that profits off your death. Freedom isn’t fearing armed and dangerous people with guns on every street corner. Freedom can’t mean continuing to allow our country’s problem of toxic masculinity and supremacist ideologies to grow unchecked.
While there will never be one single solution that ends all gun violence, it is up to each of us to get off the sidelines and do the unglamorous, heavy lifting of grassroots activism at all levels of government that will help rebuild the feelings of safety and security that have been stolen by senseless shooting tragedies.