Our news editor mentioned in passing Friday that the Class of 2019 marked the first post-9/11 generation. Guess that’s true, since most were born around 2011.
That segued into a conversation about how not only had they not known a time when America was not fighting a war on terror, but they also had never lived without the fear of mass shootings, particularly at schools.
The unofficial timeline begins at Colorado’s Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were slain in 1999, followed by 11 mass school shootings with 127 more lives lost. And those don’t count the countless single incidents. More haunting is the fact that there have been more than 200 school shootings — nearly one weekly — since the Sandyhook Elementary School massacre of 26 people in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
That conversation became particularly relevant when we went to cover the Wear Orange walk/run/bike event along the Glacial River Trail in Fort Atkinson Saturday. Sponsored by the Whitewater and Lakeland Mothers Demand Action chapters, it was designed to create awareness of gun violence, remember its all-too-many victims and provide common-sense information to curb it.
This was not an anti-gun rally, as some folks might think; many supporters and participants are gun owners themselves. Rather, it was an opportunity to talk about gun violence in America calmly and share ways to safely live with and around guns so no one need be a statistic.
Saturday’s fifth annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day event was labeled Wear Orange because that was the favorite color of young Hadiya Pendleton of Chicago. After Hadiya was shot and killed in Chicago in 2013, just days after marching in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade, her friends started the first national observance in June 2015. It is no coincidence that hunters wear blaze orange for safety, either.
Mothers Demand Action supports legislation including requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales (as supported by 97 percent of all Americans), red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves or others and legislation such as the Violence against Women Act, which includes important gun safety provisions that will protect women from gun violence and save lives. It promotes responsible gun ownership, supports survivors of gun violence through the Everytown Survivor’s Network.
One way it is doing this is through its Be SMART for Kids program. It recognizes America’s gun culture and that children might be visiting friends’ homes that might have guns. Not only does it offer advice on securing one’s own firearms, but it also helps people start the conversation about guns at other peoples homes. SMART stands for:
• Secure all guns in your home and vehicles.
• Model responsible behavior around guns.
• Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes.
• Recognize the risks of teen suicide. Access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times, and nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides.
• Tell your peers to be SMART.
And speaking of statistics, here are some more we’d like to share: Every day, 93 Americans die from gun violence, and American women are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other developing countries. Firearms are the second-leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens, and the No. 1 cause for black children and teens; nearly 1,700 children and teens die by gun homicide every year; and 58 percent of American adults or someone they care for have experienced gun violence in their lifetime.
Finally, closer to home, 162 people lost their life to gun violence from 2013-17 in Jefferson, Rock and Walworth counties, with 128 of them being suicides.
We’ve all heard it said that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” And that’s true. But if the guns are not able to be placed in the hands of known criminals, or mentally unstable people, or children playing with friends, or teens despondent over a breakup, then there can be no deadly outcome.
Let no more generations grow up in the shadow of fear. As they step into adulthood, we challenge the Class of 2019 to take up this cause.