- Lawmakers now join ranks with over 240,000 children who have experienced the trauma of gun violence and fear for their lives at school since 1999.
- It’s been 27 years since any legislation to protect citizens from gun violence has passed — a law which lapsed just 10 years later.
- It’s time for lawmakers to take the lives of our school children as seriously as they address their own personal safety.
- Meg Poulin is a freelance writer focusing on women’s rights and parenting while raising her three young girls in Connecticut.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
On the day of the Columbine High School massacre, April 20, 1999, I was a junior in college. That afternoon, I turned on the TV and watched in horror as chaos unfolded in Littleton, Colorado, my hometown. I saw neighbors and friends crying in fear on national television.
My mother, at that moment, was sitting with hundreds of distraught parents, holding her friend Cathy’s hand as they waited to hear if her sons were alive. One of Cathy’s sons watched his teacher bleed to death. One of her sons was locked in a crowded closet, listening to classmates die outside the door. They were among the last kids to tumble out of the mouth of a school bus, bloody and traumatized, into their mother’s arms.
Since the Columbine massacre, the US has seen the number of injuries and fatalities from school shootings rise steadily each year. According to data gathered by The Washington Post, more than 240,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine massacre. As a mother of three school-aged children, that number strikes at the heart. As our own lawmakers discovered on January 6, one does not need to be physically injured or killed to be irreparably changed by violence.
Since the insurrection at the Capitol, Congress has been demanding safety. They want to ensure that such violence and destruction is never repeated at their workplace. There is a call for permanent fencing around the Capitol complex. Members of the House are now required to move through metal detectors as they enter the chambers. On February 2, not even a month after the attack, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was calling for a 9/11-type commission to investigate and report on the security breach, pushing an “emergency supplemental funding bill to meet institutional security needs.” A short three weeks later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, spoke about plans to use information gathered in a bipartisan probe of the insurrection to improve security at the Capitol both immediately and in the long term. “We’re going to have to make changes to security now,” she said.
As a mother of three kids who regularly practice hiding from active shooters at school, I demand swift protective measures for the security of our children at school. Not only to protect them from catastrophic injury or death, but from the trauma of being hunted, the sound of gun fire, the screams of their classmates. Policymakers are demonstrating speed and commitment to change when it comes to their own personal safety. But what about our children?
Where is the ‘9/11-type commission’ to save our children?
It has been almost 25 years since the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied Congress to cut government research into gun violence. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sponsored a database in conjunction with postgraduate researchers at the Center for Homeland Security. Not exactly a federal database on school shootings, but it’s the closest thing we have. The lack of study and federally cohesive information gathering intentionally thwarts change and action. Nancy Pelosi, where is our “9/11-type commission” to save our children from the kind of trauma our lawmakers just endured?
As I watched the insurrection at the Capitol, my mind conjured up images of our elected officials on their hands and knees in their pencil skirts and suit pants, ties dangling around their necks. I wondered if they were crawling, dizzy with panic, between padded chairs, fumbling to text loved ones. I thought about the day in May 2019, when my friend received a text from her son while he was in class at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He sent, “There’s a school shooter I love you so much I love dad.”
I thought of the day I was caught in a lockdown in my first grader’s class, seeing their wide, silent eyes and shallow breathing as we sat in absolute silence amongst their snow boots and crayons.
As I watched the riot at the Capitol, seeing our lawmakers quaking in fear, I re-lived the morning of December 14, 2012 when I learned of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, less than an hour from our home in Connecticut. I remembered how I drove to my girls’ school and wept in my car, watching other parents lurk around school grounds as we ached to hold our children. An AR-15 was used at Sandy Hook Elementary, leaving 20 children and six staff members dead. Back then, I was sure that the murder of six-year-old children would create meaningful federal action, real gun reform. I was wrong.
Now is the time for Congress to change
The last consequential federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994, an assault weapons ban that was first introduced by President Joe Biden when he served as a senator. A study done by the National Institute of Justice at the Department of Justice found that the number of gun crimes involving automatic weapons dropped by 17% in the six cities involved in the study during the ban.
Despite that report, the ban was allowed to lapse a decade later. The federal government has failed to pass protective legislation aimed to thwart gun violence for the last 27 years, regardless of the climbing gun violence numbers. Instead, our lawmakers are getting particularly good at publicly sending “thoughts and prayers.”
I hope there may be a window of opportunity opened as a result of the insurrection at the Capitol; proximity is often the most powerful catalyst for change. Vermont Republican Governor Phil Scott had an “A” rating with the NRA – reflecting his voting record on gun rights – and was an active defender of gun owners until a planned attack at a Vermont high school was thwarted.
At a press conference in 2018, Scott said “I support the Second Amendment, but I had to ask myself, ‘Are we truly doing everything we can to make our kids and communities safer?‘” He went on to sign gun control measures into law in Vermont.
Republican Rep. Brian Mast had a change of heart just nine days after the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. An AR-15 was used to kill 17 people, and wound 17 others, prompting the once avid proponent for the Second Amendment to call for thorough restrictions on guns.
The Capitol insurrection didn’t just “hit close to home” for lawmakers, it was literally beating down their doors. There was enormous potential for explosive gun violence the day of the insurrection – an alarming amount of weapons have been seized in the aftermath.
It’s time for our policymakers to channel their passion for investigation and meaningful security measures for their own protection and pass common sense gun laws to protect our children. It’s time to finally take brave action to tighten gun laws, an action already supported by a majority of Americans. Will they allocate our nation’s children the same regard they have for their own lives?
I’ll be sending my thoughts and prayers as they decide.