For many people, it is easy to think about gun violence and its impacts a few times a year, either following a horrifying, high-profile story in the news or during Wear Orange Weekend (this year June 3-5). Unfortunately, that is not a reality for an ever growing group of people across the country. Gun violence has irreparably changed their lives every day because they are victims, survivors, or someone they care about died because of a gun. Gun violence is an issue that is extremely important to me because I have seen and experienced the impact that gun violence has had on individuals and families. In 2018, my cousin Alyssa Alhadeff was killed in her English class in Parkland, Florida. She was only fourteen years old. Since then, gun violence and school safety have been issues that I am passionate about and want to make a difference on.
I am part of the growing gun violence prevention movement, working to pass common-sense legislation to keep students safe in all places across the country, especially schools because no student should ever fear for their life going to school. Yet every day, many students and parents across the country are afraid because of gun violence. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to pass Alyssa’s Law both in New York State and at the federal level. Alyssa’s Law is an important piece of legislation to me because it honors my cousin and is a key piece of legislation to keep kids safe in school by ensuring that law enforcement can be contacted by students or staff with a click of a panic button, decreasing the amount of time that it takes for law enforcement to respond to an emergency. Alyssa’s Law has already been passed in New Jersey and Florida and has been introduced in several other states.
In addition to working on legislation such as Alyssa’s Law, I have also been part of Students Demand Action to end gun violence. Regardless of whether gun violence is happening in a school, at large gatherings, in malls, or on street corners, gun violence is something that impacts not only the people who are injured or killed but anyone with whom they have a connection. As we have seen with the recent horrific shootings in Buffalo, Dallas, and now Uvalde, the community they are members of is also traumatized. Innocent children are sent to school and never return home, time and time again. The shooting at Robb Elementary took the lives of innocent children and their teachers, yet lawmakers still refuse to get up and take action. Thoughts and prayers are not enough, they were not enough after Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Parkland, and they still aren’t and never will be. Far too often school shootings happen and they don’t even make the news, yet children and families suffer every day because their child, parent, sibling, or cousin, will never come home from school, and even when a shooting like Sandy Hook gets national attention, our country falls into a familiar news cycle and nothing gets done. Robb Elementary is not the first, and it won’t be the last. It is not the first time we promise to take action, the first time politicians send ‘thoughts and prayers’, or even the first time we say enough, but maybe it will be the last time we sit back and say someone else will do this work. This reality demands that we get up and do something about the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.
A key piece of federal legislation to protect kids from easily preventable gun injuries and deaths is Ethan’s Law (H.R. 748/S. 190). Ethan’s Law is named after Ethan Song, a then fifteen-year-old boy who was handling an unsecured gun at his best friend's house when it accidentally discharged, killing Ethan. Unsecured guns pose a huge threat to children and teens across the country: the #NotAnAccident Index done by Everytown for Gun Sense in America looked at over two-thousand incidents of gun violence in a five-year span, and found that seven out of every ten unintentional shootings occur in a home. Leaving unsecured guns, often loaded, or near ammunition, allows children to shoot themselves or others, often unknowingly, leading to fatal injuries or death. New research shows that the leading cause of death for children and teens (ages one to nineteen) is guns, surpassing the previous leading cause of death of car crashes (CDC, 2020). Recent research has continued to uphold previous findings that increasing firearm-related mortality reflects a longer-term trend and shows that we continue to fail to protect our youth from a preventable cause of death (NEJM, 2022). Ethan’s Law, which has already been passed with bipartisan support in Connecticut, must be passed at the federal level to mandate the safe storage of firearms in residences where minors or other unauthorized persons live. In order to protect all children in America, it is crucial to reach out to your members of Congress to tell them to support Ethan’s Law.
The campaign to end gun violence is far from over and is a cause that I will spend the rest of my life working on. Unfortunately, for so many gun violence prevention advocates they are like me and become involved because gun violence injured or killed a family member or friend. Whether gun violence has personally impacted your life or not, we all have the power to make a difference and fight for change. It is important for us all to advocate for change, not only for survivors and those directly impacted but for us all, as gun violence can impact anyone.
My activism on gun violence prevention is inspired by the Jewish value “Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world” (Sanhedrin 37a). It is difficult to measure the impact that individual gun violence prevention laws have, but when I hear the occasional story of the impact that such laws had, it all becomes worth it. Knowing that there are so many more people whose lives have been impacted in a positive way that I will never hear about makes it worth it.
With the upcoming Wear Orange weekend June 3-5, there are so many ways to get involved and start (or continue) your activism ending gun violence. Join events across the country or on Zoom, to educate yourself on gun violence and its impacts, and honor survivors of gun violence.
- Check out the RAC's Wear Orange 2022 guide to commemorate Wear Orange and stop gun violence.
- Host a Wear Orange Shabbat using the RAC's Wear Orange Shabbat resource.
- Tell your members of Congress to support Ethan’s Law and protect children from gun violence.
- Tell your members of Congress to take action on universal background checks.
- Find a Wear Orange event near you.