Teens Urge Congress to Ban Assault Weapons - Speech 1

May 24, 2024CJ Wechsler Sánchez

The RAC is proud to bring thousands of teens to Washington D.C. for our annual L'Taken Social Justice Seminars. After three days of intensive programming and learning about some of the many issues we advocate for, participants travel to Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress and advocate for the causes they care about. 

Leading up to Wear Orange (June 7-9), we are sharing a few of the many powerful speeches that were delivered by our L'Taken participants during our 2023-2024 season centered around the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Our youth embody the power of the Reform Movement to make our voices heard.

This speech was written by high school seniors Cara E., Emma K., Emma H., and Maci O. from Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs, FL and Temple Dor Dorim in Weston, FL. This is the first speech in our 2024 Wear Orange series. You can find the other 2 speeches here: Speech 2, Speech 3.

Our Temples were engulfed with a mixture of emotions in early 2018. Pain, grief, rage, confusion, and heartache. The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School affected our Temples deeply. To remedy the emotions we felt, we used healing tallitot, or prayer shawls, on the holiest day in our Jewish faith, Rosh HaShanah. Tears flowed from the people in our communities who simply needed to heal under the shelter of the fringes of our people.

Despite the Congress and Senate sympathizing with thousands of Americans who have experienced a terrible loss at the hands of gun violence, no action has taken place. We are done with thoughts and prayers. We want action and respectfully beg for it now.

Leviticus 19:16 states, "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor's blood is shed." To us, as members of the Jewish community, this means do not sit compliantly and avoid action when any human being's life is taken.

In 2022, there were over 48,000 firearm-related deaths in the United States. It would take you over thirteen and a half hours to count every life lost. But these victims are not just numbers; they are relatives, they are friends, and they are Americans. The gun violence epidemic continues to impact every district and every community in this country. In today's world it is nearly impossible to find an American who has neither directly or indirectly been touched by the murderous hands of a firearm.

My world completely changed in sixth grade, when I was just eleven years old, locking the door to my classroom, shutting off the lights, and rubbing the backs of my teacher and countless crying students. I was at Westglades Middle School, a football field away from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

I stayed strong. I didn't cry. I didn't complain. I didn't run. I kept the fear, anger, and desperation inside of me. I pretended the screaming parents were zombies gawking at the front gate, the stairs were a wooden bridge over a sparkling lake of death, and the guns, well they were simply terrifying.

It wasn't until I was the same age as the students whose lives were violently taken that the pain finally caught up to me. My breath was stolen, and my mind was conquered. Dark clouds blocked any light and endless negative thoughts made my insides blaze in fear and defeat. I was overcome with depression and anxiety. I constantly questioned everything. I was stuck in an endless pit of darkness and nightmares.

In one recurring nightmare I've had, the room was spinning in violent circles and the shaking glass door just wouldn't lock. The bookshelf full of colorful stories was too heavy to push, and the mass of students are crying just a little too loud. I could not focus. Contents of spilled backpacks cover the carpeted floor making it hard to walk. The pounding in my head grows louder. I want to crawl into myself. How can we survive this when he is out there? Ear shattering bangs and pings fill the air as distant screams get quieter.

At last, I drift away to safety.

Puddles of sticky sweat cover my skin as I wake from my nightmare. The breath lost in my chest, struggling to take in air. I can see the same nightmare whether asleep or awake. The world where I'm scared to go to school. I'm scared to go to the theater. I'm scared.

The Assault Weapons Ban (S. 25 / H.R. 698) would prohibit the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of an assault weapon. An assault weapon could be a magazine, belt, or 19 other named firearms along with any copies and duplicates of these weapons that has a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition. According to the bill, an assault weapon has a large capacity for ammunition, through the feeding device. In 2004 Congress allowed this law to expire. A semiautomatic assault weapon can fire a round every time its trigger is pulled, has a magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, or a detachable magazine and another military-style feature, like a pistol grip or a threaded barrel.

These fatal weapons were used in a multitude of mass shootings: the Sandy Hook shooting killed 26 children and teachers in 2012; the Charleston shooting killed 9 in 2015; El Paso lost 23 lives in 2019, Uvalde lost 21 in 2022, Lewistown lost 18 just last year in 2023. In our very own community of Parkland, we lost 17 beautiful lives to an AR-15 in 2018.

These are few of many shootings using an assault rifle that have happened since the law expired. The Assault Weapons Ban would also ban bump-fire stocks and other devices which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at fully automatic rates. Few states in our nation have adopted a ban on assault rifles, however, more must be done. Nationally, a federal law banning assault weapons will bring about a greater change.

I urge Senator Rick Scott to cosponsor the Assault Weapons Ban (S. 25), demonstrating a commitment to safety and ensuring that weapons of war cannot be used to murder, maim, and traumatize our communities.

I thank Representative Jared Moskowitz for cosponsoring the Assault Weapons Ban (H.R. 698), demonstrating his commitment to protecting American communities and preventing the everlasting trauma of gun violence.

Thank you for your time and attention, it is truly appreciated.

Some of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. have been the result of assault weapons, weapons of war that are intended to shoot rapidly in a short period of time. You can join these teens and the larger Reform Movement by urging Congress to ban assault weapons.

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