On the night of 14 December 2012, I threw up.
I couldn’t fall asleep; there was a knot in the pit of my stomach. For the first time in my young adult life, I was questioning how the world could be filled with so much evil. Just hours earlier, 26 innocent lives were lost in Newtown, Connecticut – most under the age of six – because of a mentally ill madman with an automatic rifle.
Last Sunday night, on a London bus on the way to the cinema, my boyfriend’s phone buzzed with a breaking news notification: “26 dead, more injured, after a gun attack at a Texas church.”
“Wow, that’s awful,” I remarked, distractedly, already turning back to endless Instagram scrolling until what I had just read began to sink in. “Wait, did that say 24 dead? Not again.”
Since that cold December night almost five years ago, little has changed. There have been 1,152 mass shootings in the US since then – that is, shootings involving multiple victims of firearms-related violence. Of those, 142 occurred at schools. Roughly 54,476 people have been killed by gun violence since 2014.
In 2017 alone, there have been 309 mass shootings in the US. That’s almost one mass shooting each day this year because a gun was placed into the hands of the wrong person.
I remember thinking after the Sandy Hook massacre that there was no way gun control laws wouldn’t change now. There was no way the big, powerful people who make laws could look at the faces of the 20 pure, innocent children who had their futures ripped from them and not recognise the need for change.
After horrible tragedies like the one that happened less than a week ago outside San Antonio, politicians always offer their thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers are great, but they aren’t going to change anything. The 26 people who died last weekend were at the very source of thoughts and prayers offered by politicians, and it certainly wasn’t enough for them. And it won’t be enough for the victims of the next shooting, either.
President Trump stated that stricter gun control laws would have made “no difference” to the Sunday night shooting; in fact, he believes tighter laws would have led to more deaths that evening.
This is where you’re wrong, Mr President. Devin Kelley, the man responsible for the attack, should never have been able to buy the firearms he used to maim and murder almost 50 people.
Kelley had three guns on him at the time of the shooting, one of which was a Ruger AR-556 rifle. (I’ve linked to the Google Images results page for that gun so you can see just how terrifying a weapon it is.) The scariest part? Kelley was able to buy this automatic rifle because of an “internal error” in the National Criminal Information Centre database.
After serving in the United States Air Force for four years, Kelley was dishonourably discharged because of two counts of domestic abuse, involving both his wife and child. A man with such convictions is supposed to be banned from buying firearms and body armour. But his charges were never entered into the system, and he was able to pass background checks to purchase weapons this year and last year.
So I ask, when will it be enough? If 26 schoolchildren and teachers weren’t enough, if 49 people celebrating life and equality dancing at a nightclub weren’t enough, if 59 concertgoers weren’t enough, if 26 people praying in a sacred space wasn’t enough, what will be? What will it take for these dangerous, irresponsible laws to change?
I long for a future where headlines reading “Worst mass shooting in US history” aren’t the norm. I don’t want to be afraid that next time it will be my family, my friends, my peers, me. I don’t want to hear about mass violence so often that I expect it.
Earlier this year, I moved from the US to the UK. In the UK, there are no mass shootings. There are no school shootings. At least not regularly. The gun laws are stricter, and weapons like machine guns and semi-automatic rifles are prohibited for members of the public. It’s clear to see that responsible laws regarding the sale of firearms lead to a safer world.
As a society, we need to do better. We need to hold our politicians, leaders and lawmakers accountable – if not for our own sake, for the sake of those we’ve lost. For the children at Sandy Hook, for the minority groups at Pulse, for the music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival and for the people celebrating their faith at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. We need change.