[Bishops United Against Gun Violence] This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School. On that day in 1999, 15 people, including the two teenaged shooters, died in a mass shooting that seized the nation’s attention and galvanized parents, students and policymakers to improve school safety and advocate for gun safety measures.
But today, as the students who survived that horrific day at Columbine turn 40 and the babies who were born that year graduate from college, our country’s gun problem is worse than it has been in several decades. Since Columbine, more than 248,000 American students have experienced the trauma of gun violence at school. Instead of enacting common sense gun reform, we have raised a generation of children accustomed to active shooter drills.
Mass shootings declined in 2020, when pandemic restrictions limited gatherings, but it was still the deadliest year in decades for gun deaths. More than 43,000 Americans were killed with guns in murders and suicides. In the last several weeks, as COVID restrictions have lifted, mass shootings have returned, bringing unspeakable losses to families in Atlanta, Boulder, Los Angeles, South Carolina and Indianapolis, and many other towns and cities, and everyday gun violence shows no signs of slowing. All of these forms of gun violence disproportionately affect Black and brown Americans.
We mourn the senseless deaths of all those killed in recent mass shootings just as we mourn the shooting deaths of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and so many other people of color at the hands of law enforcement officials. We grieve especially the deaths of children killed by guns, like three-year-old Randell Jones and sixteen-year-old Jamari Preston who were shot to death in Hartford, Connecticut on the same day, seven-year-old Jaslyn Adams who was shot and killed on Sunday while riding in a car at a McDonald’s drive-through in Chicago and nine-year-old Matthew Farias, who died in his mother’s arms during a mass shooting in Orange, California last month.
Earlier this month, President Biden announced six executive orders that will help address the public health epidemic of gun violence. We are grateful to the president for his commitment to reducing gun violence, and particularly for his pledge to invest in community violence interventions like the ones championed by the Community Justice Action Fund. We call on Congress and local and state officials to do their part to end gun violence not only by enacting sensible gun legislation, but also by enforcing gun laws already on the books. Red flag laws, like the ones President Biden supports, are powerful tools for keeping guns out of the hands of people in crisis. But they do not work when law enforcement officials do not use them, as they apparently did not in the case of the recent mass shooter in Indianapolis.
No one executive order or piece of legislation will end the epidemic of gun violence. But we know that simple, common sense laws, community and mental health prevention strategies, and safe storage requirements can save the lives of many of the tens of thousands of people we lose each year to murder and suicide. As Christians who believe in a God who triumphed over death in the Resurrection of Jesus, we must take action to end gun violence before another generation grows to adulthood in the midst of the carnage that now erupts in our homes, streets, schools and communities. May God give us strength for the work ahead.