I am angry and heartbroken. Over the past few weeks, our country has suffered through several more tragic high profile mass shootings, including at a neighborhood grocery store in Buffalo, New York, an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
We have been here too many times before. It has to stop. Many constituents have reached out to me, including a mother of three children who asked me, “What can I do? What can YOU do?” I’m sharing some of what I’ve been telling them.
Here are some things you can do. You can get involved and support the work of GunSense Vermont, which is organizing a March for Our Lives this Saturday, June 11 at the State House in Montpelier. This rally is part of a national day of action, with marches all over the country. You can learn more on the GunSense Vermont Facebook page, but don’t stop there. The next legislative session in Vermont begins in January 2023, so legislators like me who work on gun safety legislation need people to be there to support our efforts.
There are also many national organizations you can support like Moms Demand Action, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, March for Our Lives, or Brady United Against Gun Violence. You can write to other elected officials, especially at the federal level, and speak out to demand more than moments of silence and thoughts and prayers from leaders who stand in the way of common sense gun laws. You can volunteer for political campaigns around the country and vote for people who will vote for gun safety laws.
In 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, I was distraught. My youngest child was the same age as the 20 first-graders killed that Friday morning in December. I held my children tight and tried to shield them from the horrors of our country. A year later, I wrote about my experiences as a mother in the aftermath of the horror.
In 2018, after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida and the near-miss in Fair Haven, Vermont, I was angry and scared. My oldest child was a senior in high school and I saw her in the faces of the teenagers who survived the Parkland massacre and courageously led a nationwide movement to demand more attention to gun violence.
In 2022, after the recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas, I was numb. My kids have grown up in a country where school shootings are “normal,” where thoughts and prayers have replaced laws and action. I am now a state senator and one of the most vocal sponsors of gun safety legislation in the State House, but I still often feel helpless.
After 2018, legislators did take action in Vermont, and passed meaningful gun violence prevention legislation. I pushed school boards to pass resolutions calling for stricter gun laws, took middle-schoolers to the State House to lobby legislators, and supported students in a snowy school walk-out, as they chanted “We Want Change!” And, I ran for state office.
Four years later, not enough has changed and gun violence continues in Vermont and nationwide. As a state senator, and more importantly as a mother, I call on my counterparts at the federal level to stop the madness, end the filibuster, and enact meaningful national gun violence prevention laws. We need political courage and stronger federal gun safety laws now.
Earlier this session, we did make more progress in Vermont. After the Governor vetoed a stronger version of the bill, we passed a “compromise” bill, now Act 87, that strengthens our red flag and domestic violence laws; improves data collection; prohibits guns in hospitals; and partially closes the Charleston loophole, which enables some gun buyers to skirt federal background checks.
And still, there’s more to do to keep Vermonters safe from gun violence. Most gun deaths in Vermont are the result of domestic violence or suicide and other gun violence is on the rise, and national gun violence trends are especially tragic. More can be done at the state and federal level.
Strengthening enforcement and expanding the scope of the federal background check system and creating strong federal red flag laws that remove guns from people who threaten violence or abuse should be a priority. There is also clear evidence that waiting periods for purchasing firearms are effective at preventing suicide and other rash gun violence.
We need reasonable limits on where guns are allowed, such as schools and childcare centers, places of worship, public buildings, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and college campuses. Here in Vermont, guns are already prohibited at schools and now hospitals, but nationally such limits are inconsistent. There are already millions of guns in circulation in America, but provisions to limit the availability and proliferation of the most deadly weapons, such as military-style assault weapons, are also important.
We need more rigorous data collection and research on the public health crisis that gun violence has become, as well as stronger means to hold gun manufacturers liable for harm done, similar to provisions holding the tobacco industry liable for smoking deaths. Finally, we need more education, outreach, and training from a public health perspective to help keep children, communities, marginalized populations, and gun owners themselves safe.
As a state legislator, I am committed to this continuing work in Vermont, but we need federal action most of all. The majority of Americans, including those who own guns, support common sense gun laws. We must talk about gun violence and its root causes, including racism, hopelessness, and toxic masculinity. We must work together to shift the culture and end gun violence in America.
We are angry and heartbroken, and we want change.