Teens Urge Congress to End Gun Violence

May 31, 2023Israel Harris

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, learning about just a few of the many issues prevalent in our country today, all participants travel to Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress and advocate in support of the things they care about.

This year, leading up to Wear Orange (June 2-4), we are sharing a few of the many powerful speeches that were given by our L’Taken participants during our 2022-2023 season centered around the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Our youth know firsthand about the dangers and impacts of gun violence and embody the power of the Reform Movement to make our voices heard.

This speech was written by Erika B., Sam P., Elena M., and Lila S. from Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and is the third speech in our Wear Orange Series, 2023. You can find the other 2 speeches here: Speech 1, Speech 2:

How can our government officials call themselves the representatives of the people as they silently push the spreading epidemic of gun violence under the rug, endangering every human who lives in our great nation. We can sit here and list the blatantly horrifying statistics that tell us America has a rate of gun violence 26 times higher than any other developed country, and that there are more mass shootings than days in a year. We can review the fact that one person every 22 minutes dies by suicide with a firearm, or that in 2020, firearms overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans aged 0-19 years old.

We are taught and told to be wary of the vulnerability of our lives in vehicles, but we go into public spaces every day without talking about the deadly accessibility to firearms that creeps up on us when we are supposed to be the safest: in homes with partners, at schools filled with children, communal grocery stores, places of worship, and just as we saw two days ago, a dance studio in Monterey Park California, near a celebration for the Lunar New Year. As Americans, we tell ourselves that we, as a country, have progressed in our historical struggle for racial justice, but we continue to push aside the shootings that silently target Communities of Color. Arguing that Black lives are just as protected and valued as white lives directly ignores that Black Americans are 12 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than white Americans. United States citizens are victims of our lawmakers continuously turning a blind eye to the 13% of gun sales done by unlicensed sellers, giving access to weapons to unchecked and potentially dangerous people. But our government has the power to spread bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation. A poll by Morning Consult/ Politico found that 84% of Americans support enforcing background checks for firearm purchases. What other topic has such a nationwide agreement in such a polarized time? We can use this nationwide support and common value for life and safety to continue the progress that we are just beginning to surface.

Judaism and Jewish law commands us to do many things. Above all is the commandment not to kill. We can quote Exodus, chapter 20 verse 13, “Thou shalt not murder.” In the Talmud, one of the governing documents of the Jewish people, it is taught that taking a life is equivalent to destroying the universe, inversely, saving a life is likened to saving the universe. Guns allow us to commit the highest crime against humanity and against Jewish law – to kill with ease. It is very important for us, as Jews, to do anything and everything we can to save a life. These Jewish values reflect the importance of gun restricting legislation. If we can continue to support legislation that restricts guns, we can continue to save lives throughout the U.S., saving many universes to come.

On April 22, 2022, my school, Edmund Burke in D.C., experienced a school shooting and I [Elena] was present. The traumatic events that happened will stay with me and my community for the rest of our lives. I’m here to speak about my experience on that day.

The shooting happened around 3:30pm, which is the end of our school day. I was packing up my backpack at my locker when I heard gunshots. I ran into the nearest classroom, leaving my locker open, and my backpack and belongings on the floor. Thankfully, most people were still inside the building, but a few minutes later students would have been streaming out of the building and we would have had a very different outcome.

Most of the time, we had no idea what was happening. We considered that it could be a poorly handled drill, and at points, we were told that it was a domestic violence situation unassociated to our school. All we were sure of was that we were supposed to hide and be as quiet as we could.

After a while, we heard a loud knock on the door from a SWAT team from outside. They told us to stand up, leave all of our stuff on the floor, and put our hands in the air.

We were brought to the school theater, and we hid behind the curtains. There were people crying and people on their phones trying to find out what was going on. We were eventually told to come out from the curtains and sit in the theater seats, and we ended up there for hours. We could not believe that this was happening to us. We always hear about school shootings, and we think about how awful and scary it is, but we never think it could possibly happen to us. On April 22, that scary thought became my reality.

We were finally led out of the school by the SWAT team and the police. That street on that day is an image I will never forget. There were tanks, first responders, and police cars everywhere. We were led across the street and told to crouch behind cars. We were incredibly scared, but we followed what we were being told to do.

I eventually boarded a city bus with my friends, and they took us to a local library to meet our parents. I finally saw my dad and I was relieved to see him, but I still felt incredibly unsafe and affected by what had happened. We learned later that 4 people were injured and thankfully, no one was killed.

The scariest part of the information we learned afterwards was that the shooter purchased all his guns and ammunition entirely legally. The whole situation would have been avoided with better background checks. I also strongly believe that it should have been a red flag that he purchased so many guns and so much ammunition at once.

At this moment, as federal law under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 stands, federal background checks are required for firearms sold by LICENSED dealers. However, this means that guns sold by UNLICENSED firearms dealers online, at a gun show, or through private sale do not require a federal background check.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, H.R. 8, was introduced by Representative Mike Thompson in the 117th Session of Congress. It was passed in the House but its companion bill, the Background Check Expansion Act, S. 529, introduced by Senator Chris Murphy, never received a vote.

This act, with a few exceptions, would have required federal background checks for the sale or transfer of all firearms, which extends to all sellers, licensed and unlicensed.

We urge Representative Raskin to demonstrate his commitment to closing the private sale loophole and preventing gun violence by cosponsoring The Bipartisan Background Checks Act when it is reintroduced into the 118th Session of Congress.

Thank you so much for taking the time to listen and we hope that representative Raskin will continue to support gun restriction legislation.

The vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, support background checks for all gun sales in order to prevent senseless acts of violence. Join these teens and the larger Reform Movement by urging Congress to support background checks to decrease gun violence.  

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