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The US experiences more mass shootings than any other country. With over 270 million guns and 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012, the time for “thoughts and prayers” has passed. What this country needs now is change when it comes to gun control, but is it even possible? We asked Rebecca Fischer, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, and Deborah Gitell, who is on Los Angeles’ Women Against Gun Violence Board, Community Outreach.

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GrokNation: Why has it been so hard to pass gun control laws here? England and Australia have these laws and as a result their gun deaths are much lower than ours.

Deborah Gitell: The NRA is one of the most influential lobbyist groups campaigning for looser gun laws. This past election, they invested $30 million in Donald Trump’s election, and around $20 million on elections in 2016 for Congressional and Senate Candidates. The gun violence prevention movement doesn’t have an equivalent organization with the kind of financial resources to lobby legislators for stronger gun laws. In fact, Pew Research just conducted a study showing that supporters of stricter gun laws are less likely to contact elected officials.

Rebecca Fischer: Indeed, the NRA has had a choke-hold on lawmakers across this country and the carnage continues. However, most Americans support common sense gun safety measures and we all need to make more of an effort to know our elected officials’ voting records on gun bills. It’s critical that we support and elect legislators who consider gun violence prevention a top priority and will not let us down.  

We also need to recognize that there have been victories at the state and local level and continue to push for more progress. After the Sandy Hook massacre, Congress failed to act but some state legislatures did take major steps forward. New York enacted one of the strongest gun safety laws in the country and we have the third lowest gun death and injury rate in the country.

However, with mass shootings routinely in the newsreel and over 33,000 dying from gun violence a year, we have to do more to pressure Congress to enact sensible gun laws—from background checks to banning assault weapons to passing laws that will prevent domestic abusers from accessing guns.  Time and time again, we learn that mass shooters have a record of domestic violence.  Right now in NY and in many states across the country, there is state legislation pending that would allow family members to petition a court to prevent individuals who are a danger to themselves or others from accessing guns.  Family members are often the first to see or experience red flags and they need tools to prevent tragedies.   

Deborah Gitell: Interestingly enough, 83% of gun owners nationally support criminal background checks on all sales of firearms, while only 14 percent of gun owners oppose them. There is strong bipartisan agreement on the issue, with 90 percent of Democrat and 81 percent of Republican gun owners in support of background checks. So why isn’t this happening?

GrokNation: What are action steps “everyday folks” can take to help pass safer gun control regulations?

Deborah Gitell: At Women Against Gun Violence, we believe the time for picking up candles and having silent vigils is over.  We need to pick up our phones and make our voices heard.  Since the Vegas and Sutherland Springs, TX massacres, I have been having a lot of conversations with people who are fearful about all the guns on the streets and [fear] that it is just a matter of time before it hits their community. It’s not “if” it happens, it is “when.”  We need to get used to calling our legislators and tell them it’s not okay for us to walk around in fear. This is what it is like to be terrorized – being fearful about sending kids to school or to the movies, or to church or to college.

There are currently a few bills that have been introduced [to Congress] and not voted on.  One is the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would enable a person with a concealed weapon permit in weaker gun law states like Alabama or Mississippi to carry a concealed firearm when visiting Los Angeles, even though it is very challenging to get a permit in most California jurisdictions.

Diane Feinstein introduced a bill in congress to ban Bump Stocks- the accessory that converted the Las Vegas shooter’s semi-automatic gun to an automatic, making it easier to kill more people, more quickly. We also send out action alerts to activate people when we need our legislators to hear from us. We need voices,  bodies and determination to stop this senseless cycle of violence.

Rebecca Fischer:

  1.     If you don’t know enough (and you never do), join a gun violence prevention organization.  Attend our events, read our alerts, and learn as much as you can. Everything from educational meetings to phone banking to marches can be effective and help build momentum.
  2.   Although they sometimes feel futile, calls and letters supporting strong gun safety legislation and opposing weak and dangerous bills ARE worth putting the time into.   
  3.   Stop financially supporting companies that invest in gun manufacturing! Check out your 401(k) and other investments and take steps to divest.
  4.   Support work that is helping disproportionately impacted communities of color.  Street-level intervention work and preventative education programs (like the NYAGV Ed Fund), are helping provide the support and resources needed by our most impacted communities, especially for young people. Policy change is critical but we need to take a holistic approach to reducing gun violence and community support is vital as well.
  5.   If you don’t have time to do the grassroots work yourself, donate to a GVP organization that can. Private organizations need more money to do the research, advocacy, and community work needed.