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Lenten Promise: A Teacher’s Stance on Gun Control

As with any mass shooting that has come before it, the Parkland shooting horrified our nation. As soon as the story hit the media, there were already discussions on gun control, and rightly so. There have been too many mass shootings in the past five years alone (18 in 2018) for this topic to be ignored. Many people are speaking out on social media, and my mother (an educator) happens to be one of them. On Ash Wednesday, the day of the Parkland shooting, she committed to giving up gun complacency. The following interview displays her thoughts on the matter:  

 

What was it about this particular shooting that made you take action?

I don’t think there was anything particularly unique about this shooting. Children died. One tragedy isn’t worse than another. Loss is loss. Truthfully, it has been brewing inside me for a while, and when I heard the news, something within me kind of snapped. I got so angry and disgusted that we as a nation have not been able to solve this issue, and the result of that is more dead children. We’ve had so long to work on it, and we are no closer to it now that we were after Columbine. But I was also angry at myself. I have children who I love with all my heart. I have students that I care deeply for.  And I really could not point to one thing that I personally had done to make a difference. Like most of us, I think I was just waiting for someone else to do it for me. I look back and ask myself how I could have waited so long.

Most people were commenting on how sad and ironic it was that this event happened on Valentine’s Day, but the idea of linking my activism with Lent came when I witnessed a photo that was featured on the news and on social media. It was a woman outside the school in Florida embracing a student, both with looks of agony on their faces. The woman had an instantly recognizable mark on her forehead, and suddenly the significance that this horrible tragedy had occurred on Ash Wednesday was not lost to me. It seemed right that if I was going to take up a Lenten promise, which is a tradition in the Catholic faith, that it be something related to gun violence.

 

What actions are you taking to keep up with your Lenten promise?

Well, first, I need to be clear about my goal. A Lenten promise is a promise to work on yourself for a period of 40 days. The logic behind this is that if you can create a good habit for yourself for 40 days, you can probably do it for your whole life. My specific promise is to give up complacency about gun violence. So I decided to engage in some activities that would help me do that. I know that ultimately I don’t have direct power to change anything.  I try not to be bogged down by the weight of that.  Instead, I try to focus on making myself accountable. If this inspires someone else, wonderful. If it contributes to a permanent solution to this terrible problem, even better. I hope it does! But my focus remains on making myself a better person in this way. If you want to change the world, change yourself!

So what specific actions am I taking? First, it’s important to educate myself. It’s a pretty complex issue. Luckily, there are a ton of very good and reliable sources available on the Internet to help me. Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is a great one.  So is the Illinois General Assembly website. I’ve learned what protections our state currently affords us and where we are still vulnerable. I’ve also learned about two gun control bills that are pending. The second thing I want to do is share what I’ve learned with others.  Knowledge and facts can be a powerful force, and if what I learn helps someone else commit to this cause, I am happy to share. Social media helps with that. Third, I am making my voice heard in many ways. I am writing to lawmakers that represent me and letting them know what I expect from them. I am also chronicling my Lenten journey on Facebook by writing reflections about this issue that help me define it better for myself and maybe for others too.

 

How would you respond to individuals who demand to keep their Second Amendment rights?

There are certainly a lot of arguments I could make in response to that. I could say that when the framers of the Constitution penned the Second Amendment, the world was a very different place, and there may have been a need for it then.  Now that we have institutions to protect us, I am not sure it is necessary. I could also respond by saying that I am fairly certain that it’s unlikely that our Founding Fathers in the 1700s could have even imagined how evolved and sophisticated firearms could become. I might even point out that the Supreme Court, a group of people so much more informed on this issue than me, have seen fit to take the position that common sense gun control laws are, in fact, consistent with the Second Amendment—there’s no conflict between them. It’s also important to point out that societies are often judged by how well they treat the most vulnerable of their members. If owning an assault rifle supersedes protecting our children, what hope do we have of being a civilized society? Having said all that, I try not to get into debates with people who’s views are so vastly different from mine. What would be the point? I’m not likely to change their minds, and they will not change mine. What I really want is to influence lawmakers and vote into office those people who can make a difference on this issue.

 

As a teacher, how do you feel politicians and the media have been responding to the mass amounts of students speaking up for gun control?

First of all, even though I had nothing to do with it, I am so proud of those students who have stood up and voiced their anger, fear and frustration. Watching it unfold has been so inspirational. I am happy that the media has given so many of the MSD students a forum to express themselves and try to hold lawmakers accountable. Of course, the cynic inside me says beware of the media, which chases ratings and politicians who will try to politicize this issue. I also feel that adult activists need to be vigilant and protective of students putting themselves out there. After all, they are fighting a fight that we should have fought years ago. Any time someone criticizes them or questions their intentions or their sincerity, which sadly has already happened, I feel like a momma lion who needs to defend her cubs.  

 

In the future what do you hope will happen regarding gun control, and what can we as citizens do to make it happen?

Gun control is admittedly only one aspect of a very large problem. There are certainly other factors. But it seems so obviously apparent that laws on background checks, bump stocks, assault rifles, licensure, and the sale of firearms need to be established and consistently enforced. A pretty tall order, I know, especially with powerful forces out there like the NRA to oppose you.

It’s not for me to say what others should do. Mine is a very personal journey, but anyone can do it. On the other hand If you want to make schools safer but gun-control is not your thing, there are many other aspects to this issue that need attention. Learn about and work toward better mental health, research ways to make school buildings more secure, support social workers. Choose something that speaks to you and makes sense to you. The one thing people should not do is nothing, which is how we got here in the first place.

 

What is the next step in keeping up with your Lenten promise?

First, I have vowed to communicate weekly with my local, state and US representatives. I am trying to send my communication via both letter and email.  I’m hoping they’ll get sick of me.  I have also started to research the candidates that are up for election in my district. There’s a primary in March and an election in November. I’m learning people’s names and trying to find out what they stand for. This Saturday, I’m going to hear a candidate give a talk, and I’ll definitely want to know how he plans to vote on this issue. In other words, I’ll be doing what a good citizen is expected to do.

Second, as a teacher, I have a unique opportunity and responsibility to try and affect change at my school. So, with my principal’s support, I have reached out to my colleagues and invited them to join me in this process. I have a lot of ideas, and I know my colleagues do too. We’re going to make a difference at our school.

Finally, If the Russians have taught us anything lately it’s that social media can be a powerful way to influence and persuade. So one simple thing I am trying to do every day, especially on days when I may be too busy to write, is to like and share any good, positive messages or news items that help to shine a light on gun violence and gun control. I try not to share things that are overly political because I feel strongly that this is not a  political issue and I don’t want to alienate anyone who might otherwise support the cause.  I anticipate that sharing on social media will become even more imperative when the MSD shooting gets replaced in the media by the next big headline which is an inevitable eventuality.  When that happens, it’s up to us to keep it alive and on people’s radar.  

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