As my family goes through our back-to-school rituals — buying school supplies, packing lunches, taking first-day-of-school pictures — my excitement is tempered with thoughts of the 20 students and six educators killed almost four years ago in Newtown, Conn.
My son starts first grade at our local elementary school this year. My son is the same age as those kids. I am the same parent as those parents. While I have no connection at all with Connecticut or the families suffering there, that day haunts me. It haunts parents all across the country.
It’s not only the terror of that day that haunts me. It’s the fact that since 2012, our Congress has done nothing to prevent it from happening again. Our national leaders have failed to pass the most basic gun violence prevention measures. My freedom to send my children off to school without fear has been stolen by these leaders who will sacrifice my child’s safety for a good rating from the NRA.
We need real solutions in Congress that will protect our families and children. Our leaders need to pass handgun purchaser licensing, or permit-to-purchase laws, requiring buyers to qualify for a license by passing a fingerprint-based background check and taking a gun safety course. The overwhelming amount of gun violence is perpetrated with a handgun, and we must devise a sensible national system to prevent dangerous people from gaining access to a gun. Licensing combined with background checks has shown dramatic reductions in both homicides and suicides.
Our leaders also need to renew the assault weapons ban and limitation on high-capacity ammunition magazines. These weapons of war make it way too easy for someone intent on doing harm to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. While mass shootings are only a small minority of gun deaths in this country, the carnage that surrounds these types of firearms upends entire families and communities.
Maryland leaders have been working toward solutions to reduce gun violence for years, culminating in the passage of the Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which includes both the handgun purchaser licensing and an assault weapons ban. The Baltimore Police Department is working with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research to find enforcement strategies that will keep dangerous firearms off the streets. Baltimore cannot do this alone. Maryland cannot do this alone. Maryland is not an island. We need sensible gun violence prevention bills passed at a national level to prevent guns trafficked from other states from bringing death and injury to our streets.
We must stand up and demand from Congress what has been stolen from us: our safety and our freedom to send our kids to school without fear. We must work together to make sure no parent has to suffer the loss of another child to gun violence.
Instead of a New Year’s resolution, our leaders need to make a back-to-school resolution to keep our schools and communities safe from gun violence. As a mother, I resolve to vote only for candidates committed to prioritize serious efforts to reduce gun violence.
Jen Pauliukonis is president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence (mdpgv.org).