I live in Coral Springs, just three miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As I drove through my neighborhood Wednesday, I knew that many of the homes I passed had children who somewhere near the school as reports of fatalities came over the radio. One neighbor could not get his daughter on her cell phone. Another had a text saying her son was safe at a nearby hotel where parents were converging to pick up children.
Everyone in this community is in shock. Another mass shooting has happened in America, and we did not think it would happen here, to us. It always happens somewhere else, on television, to others.
On the heels of one of the deadliest school shootings in 20 years the debate once again begins over what, if anything, we can do to prevent such violence. Perhaps the answer is one that we, as Americans, don’t want to face: Nothing can be done because we do not want it badly enough.
If American voters really felt this was a solvable problem they would have forced their elected officials to take concrete steps by now. A Gallup poll indicates that while a majority of Americans want stricter gun laws limiting access to certain types of weapons, according to a 2015 Pew Research poll 40 percent of households own a gun. Seventy-four percent of gun owners in that Pew study believe owning a gun is a fundamental to their sense of freedom.
In other words, for many, our gun culture is deeply embedded in the core value of American life — freedom.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, which took 27 lives — including that of the shooter’s mother — it seemed certain some legislation be enacted. The variables were all in play: access to guns; guns that could mow down dozens of people very quickly without reloading; failure to implement background checks; the mental health of those who have access to guns; and safety measures at schools. Half a decade later, there has been no legislation enacted that tackles any of these issues.
Between 1966 and 2012 there were 90 mass shootings in the United States. We have 5 percent of the world’s population and 31 percent of its mass shootings. This is not a category in which we should be in the lead.
It is time to take an honest look at who we are as Americans. The mix of guns and mentally ill citizens results in tragic, but not unforeseeable, consequences. Are we unable to solve this problem — or are we unwilling?
We still see guns as freedom. But we cannot accept that we lose a certain number of children each year to school killings. It cannot be that, as long as the violence happens on television and not in our back yards, we mourn, but do not act.
Lawmakers in Congress will be asking us for a vote of confidence in November. We take to the streets to protest lost wages and cheer winning teams. Why not take to the streets to save our children. This is our moment as Americans to decide if we want to continue to lead the world in mass shootings and gun-related deaths or we say, Enough. “Enough” should have been what happened in Parkland on Wednesday.
Khurrum Wahid, a criminal defense attorney in Miami, is the national chairperson of Emgage, a national civic engagement and advocacy organization.