By: Dr. Erin H. Moore
I remember where I was 10 years ago when I heard the news. I was driving down a highway in Ohio when the reports started coming in over the radio about a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. An elementary school? I thought. Children? I remember the alternative fevered and hushed tones of the reporters as they tried to get their facts together. What happened? Who did this and why? How many children?
And then the numbers came in: 26 killed including 20 children. I remember using one hand to cover my mouth to stifle my scream and the other to grasp the steering wheel so I wouldn’t run off the road. Twenty children aged six and seven. The same age that my nieces are now. Six adults who sacrificed their lives trying to save their students. Traumatized little innocent children who would never be the same.
Surely, the world would change because of this moment. There was no way the “greatest nation on earth”, one where many fight for the unborn to have to have the chance to live, would change policies to allow the most precious of our citizens the right to life. Surely, we would muster the political will to prevent such a horror from happening again.
That the mother of a young man who was so deeply disturbed thought it was appropriate to foster his “hobby” by purchasing high-powered killing machines is another matter entirely. But that was her right. And that “right” is what is consistently argued about, over and over, in the never-ending gun safety struggle. But your “right” to your hobby does not outweigh my right to live. Some people seem perfectly content to have America turn into a modern-day wild, wild West, where shootouts happen in parking lots and grocery stores, where the fallacy of a good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun is an ever-present narrative. But most Americans want to be able to go shopping, to the movies, to school, to church, to our mosques and temples, to a football game, to walk our dogs down the street, to play in a playground, to go to the airport, to drive to work, to go to a party with friends, to stop at a gas station, to attend a parade – in short, we want to live our lives without being worried about being caught in a hail of gunfire by a misplaced bullet and our unfortunate luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The legacy of Sandy Hook is a nation of children who have grown up with active shooter drills and enhanced school security, some with armed guards. The legacy of Sandy Hook is Parkland, where the High School students have declared “Enough” and have emerged as the next generation of leaders who are leading the fight for gun safety legislation. The legacy of Sandy Hook is Uvalde, where the good guy with a gun narrative fell criminally short.
And sadly, the legacy of Sandy Hook is the ever-present cowardice, spinelessness, and corruption of politicians who would rather serve as faithful slaves to the gun lobby than the citizens whose lives they claim to protect. Fortunately, this summer President Biden was able to sign bi-partisan gun legislation that is our nation’s first attempt to stem the tide of gun violence in nearly 30 years. The bill is not perfect, but it’s a start. This bill is just another example of the proof that elections matter. Without President Biden in the White House and enough Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen to fight for this bill, there is no telling where we would be as a nation.
The Center for Racial and Social Justice at Shaw University, as well as social justice centers across this country, are fighting in a myriad of ways to make this nation fair, equitable, and just. But of all the issues and problems we are working toward eliminating, without our personal safety, without the right to live freely and without fear, it will be all for naught. Ultimately, the right of those of us who walk this Earth to live is the most important social justice issue of all.