So, what the hell is common sense gun reform? What's that gun thing you do? Gun control???
Let me start from the beginning.
Me, my friends, we like to use the term gun violence prevention. We avoid branding what we do as “gun control” because people like to hear that and assume we're coming from your guns. We aren't.
What we believe in is legislation that maintains the rights of a responsible gun owner while also keeping a weapon out of the hands of those who might hurt themselves or others. My journey started in October of 2017 when my best friend thought all of elementary, middle, and part of high school, Cheryl*, took her own life using a gun. At first, I went through the stages of grief over an over, like this clockwork cycle every day. I'd wake up and remember my friend killed herself, get angry at the world, cry a lot, and then maybe put another piece of my heart together before getting my beauty rest so that I could repeat the cycle again the next day. I did this all while trying to balance my first semester of college with new friends and applying to my second major.
There are a lot of reasons why suicide sucks. First of all, the person who takes their own life probably can't comprehend the amount of people they're about to impact with their actions. Cheryl's parents picked a day to remember Cheryl’s life and asked people to release red balloons into the sky. My old dance team got together, Cheryl's extended family got together, and I, alone in the alley behind my dorm released a red balloon on behalf of the life Cheryl lived.
Cheryl and I worked in irreplaceable ways. The way our minds worked was so different from our peers. While most fourth graders were running around freaking out about cooties during recess, we were probably learning audio programs in the computer lab. While other fifth grade girls were worried about getting the latest Webkinz, we coded robots in the GT room (while also worrying about the latest Webkinz). Cheryl stood up for me in ways that I couldn't. She would never let anyone touch me. Why? Because it was Cheryl and me against the world. Always.
So why talk about Cheryl for two paragraphs on a blog post about gun violence prevention? The one thing I tell media all the time is becoming a survivor of gun violence is the worst and best club someone could ever join. (Survivor is a term we broadly use to describe anyone who has lost someone close to them to gun violence, I am very well aware that my experiences are very different from that of mass shooting survivors.) On one hand, survivors are the most motivated and compassionate people. On the other hand, every time I hear about another accidental shooting, act of domestic violence, mass shooting, I feel like I lose Cheryl all over again. I run though the stages of grief again. The scab is picked and my heart has to bleed out and the worst part of it all is knowing someone has lost their best friend the way I did: to a weapon that our country chooses to let anyone have.
So what do I really advocate for if I'm not planning to knock on people's doors and demand their firearms?
1. Red Flag Laws: Legislation that falls under this umbrella term has already been passed in numerous states. Essentially, this legislation would allow me to flag someone close to me who I believe is both in possession of a firearm and at risk of hurting themselves or others with said firearm. Said person would have to go through a due process, and law enforcement would be enabled to remove their custody of firearms if appropriate.
2. Waiting Periods: A waiting period simply means one would have to wait a few days between the purchase of a firearm and obtaining a firearm. Since suicide is an impulsive decision, this often forces someone who has impulsively decided to take their own life to either pick a less lethal method or truly think over what they're about to do.
3. Close current loopholes in background checks
4. Ban bump stocks
5. Establish stricter storage laws
6. Allow Texans the ability to register to vote online
If you have any questions about any of these six points, feel free to ask me about it. I will happily engage in conversation about gun violence prevention. I actually think it's very important.
But let me also preemptively answer the question I get the most often: Even if Cheryl didn't have a gun, wouldn't she have taken her life anyway?
Truth is, majority of people who commit suicide both decide to act on their suicidal thought and actually attempt suicide within the same 24 hour period. This often stems from a particularly difficult encounter or situation that heightens these feelings. What's important is that suicide by firearm is around 80% fatal while other methods of suicide, with the exception of drowning, other forms of suicide are collectively less than 10% fatal. Guns allow someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts most effectively end their lives.
In Texas, over 60% of deaths that are a result of firearms are suicides. Furthermore, in areas that have more guns, there is a higher rate of suicide by gun. When you hear the word gun, you should think the word suicide. The existence of both is so incredibly intertwined.
So what do you do if you want to do something?
Register to vote. Then register your friends to vote. Then vote and make sure others are enabled and registered to do the same. Call your elected officials. Then call your friends and tell them to call their elected officials. Call local places of business. Ask them if they have a gun policy and make sure it's properly displayed according to your state law. Then talk to people. Listen. That's how we make sure America grows as we do.
I love you if you've gotten this far. It's 2:28AM and I'm thinking about what I'd give to hear Carrie's voice again. Time to get some sleep, and I hope you do too.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the family.