Earlier this week, gun violence prevention advocates gathered in Las Vegas to remember the lives lost five years ago in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, as well as two months ago here in Southern Nevada. They discussed the impact gun violence increasingly has on our day-to-day lives, and they encouraged each other not to give up their fight for stronger gun laws.
What’s changed in the past five years?
In the five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, we’ve seen the emergence of a more robust gun violence prevention movement. But at the same time, Congress has not responded with stronger gun laws.
Just this month, the U.S. House actually moved in the opposite direction and passed H.R. 38 to require all states to honor concealed carry permits from any state. (Rep. Mark Amodei [R-Carson City] voted in favor, while Reps. Dina Titus [D-Las Vegas], Jacky Rosen [D-Henderson], and Ruben Kihuen [D-Las Vegas] voted against.)
In the wake of the Las Vegas 1 October Shooting, several Republicans in Congress suggested they could support a ban on bump stock devices. Yet in the weeks since, neither the House nor the Senate is moving any bump stock restriction bill.
A bipartisan group of Senators, including Nevada’s own Dean Heller (R), are now backing the “Fix the NICS Act” to encourage better reporting to the national background checks system. Even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has added himself as a cosponsor, the bill may still be in jeopardy due to opposition from key parts of the gun lobby.
“We have to stand up. We need them to do more. […] I think people are tired of the excuses.”
– Annette Magnus, Battle Born Progress
With over 14,000 gun violence related deaths just this year, some in the audience asked what else is needed for lawmakers to take notice. Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus encouraged the audience to keep the pressure on them, and not to accept, “We can’t do that,” as a legitimate answer. “We have to stand up. We need them to do more,” Magnus said. “I think people are tired of the excuses.”
Rev. Leonard Jackson with the Faith Organizing Alliance agreed. “The only way we can [stop gun violence] is to come together as a people and say, ‘This is wrong.'” Jackson continued, “Make a stand. Stand up for positive change in your community. When your children look back at you, they’ll say we stood for something and didn’t fall for everything.”
“This is a horrible thing when students are being killed in their own schools, and this is not making news?”
– Valerie McNay, Boulder City
After the program, Rev. Jackson opened up further about how his experience as a Vietnam War veteran, then as a minister who served Los Angeles neighborhoods that were struggling with gang violence, influenced his take on gun violence today. For Jackson, “I believe there comes a time when people must stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Recently retired educator Valerie McNay felt similarly. At the event, she expressed outrage over the growing media ambivalence to mass shootings, including the lack of coverage of a shooting at Aztec High School in New Mexico. “When I heard about those students dying […] I thought, ‘How could this not be big news?” McNay continued, “This is a horrible thing when students are being killed in their own schools, and this is not making news?”
McNay also opened up about a neighbor, Jake, who was injured in the 1 October Shooting. “It’s his right arm. He can’t do his job well. I don’t know how many bullets and shrapnel got in there.” Jake managed the Boulder City Community Pool, yet McNay hasn’t seen him there since he was injured at Route 91. “I haven’t seen him at work. […] I keep thinking he’s probably losing income. Any time I see any of my friends suffer, it hurts.”
Can change begin at home?
Though inaction has become commonplace at the federal level, gun safety activists are working to make change happen at the local level. During the vigil, Annette Magnus reminded the audience that voters approved Question 1 last year, and that it just needs to be enforced in order to expand background checks in this state. “Nevada voters want common sense solutions like background checks. […] If we can stop one of these crimes from occurring, that’s a good law.”
Though voters approved the initiative in November 2016, Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) refused to enforce it. After asking them to reconsider, Question 1 proponents filed suit against Sandoval and Laxalt in October 2017 for not enforcing the will of the voters.
Even as bills are being debated and lawsuits are being heard, Rev. Jackson encouraged the crowd to continue to demand better. “We want people to get involved. You’re our future! […] Get out there and make change in our community.”