I recently awoke on a Monday morning, turned off my cell phone alarm, and switched off airplane mode. As Facebook and email notifications popped up on my screen, a news headline did as well: LMPD Investigates after 6 people shot, 3 fatally, overnight.
Unfortunately, waking up to these types of headlines is a macabre, summer weekend ritual for many of us that follow local news. Late morning, before homicide investigators had released the names of the victims, some of their names and faces were populating my social media feeds. One of their teachers shared a picture of her former student. He wasn’t the first she’s lost to gun violence. She commented, “I can never get used to this. I’m exhausted.”
Another friend posted a collage of seven pictures of another victim, noting she was a recent graduate headed to ROTC. These posts were followed in my news feed by more news stories on the community reaction to the overnight violence. I asked myself the question I’ve asked myself over and over again for years, “What are we going to do about the guns?”
And then I did what you are not supposed to do, I started to read the comment thread. I was 21 comments in before the word ‘gun’ was included. The first part of the comment read, “Guns are not responsible. The ones that have them in their possession and pull the triggers are.” Three comments later someone asked, “How are they getting the guns?” The legitimate question elicited laugh and angry face comment reactions. The first reply was, “So blame guns for what PEOPLE do??”
Right there in the comments a microcosm of the debate that plays out daily in our city, across our commonwealth, and coast-to-coast in our nation. Gun violence shapes the lives of millions upon millions of us. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the U.S. gun homicide rate is 25-times that of other high-income countries.
Gun homicides are most prevalent in racially segregated neighborhoods with high rates of poverty. Firearms are the leading cause of death for black children and teens. And approximately three million American children witness gun violence every year. These staggering statistics led me to start volunteering in my personal time with the Kentucky Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. In my years with the group, I’ve worked alongside other moms, dads, aunts, uncles, people without children, and gun owners, for common-sense reforms that are part of the solution.
These reforms include background checks for gun sales, opposing the proliferation of guns in educational spaces, and taking steps to make sure children cannot access unsecured guns. On the local level, we have to support programs like those of the Metro Louisville Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods that work with individuals and communities to break cycles of violence. We have to ensure all communities have access to education, employment, and mental health treatment.
We can look to other places for innovative ideas, like Milwaukee, where not only criminal justice officials, but also public health officials, review every homicide and shooting in the city. None of these solutions infringe on anyone’s right to hunt, fish, or use guns for sport. What they do is start chipping away at epidemic levels of gun violence that are devastating too many lives in too many of our communities.
We don’t have to live this way. I challenge you to take one action to make sure that we don’t continue to.
Amber Duke is a volunteer with the Kentucky Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.