NAYAK: Demand action on gun violence

One-hundred thirty-four days ago, Adam Lanza walked into an elementary school and slaughtered 20 children with dreams ahead of them, as well as six teachers who dedicated their lives to keeping their students safe.

One-hundred thirty-four days ago, our country reached a simple conclusion: We have to do something about gun violence.

But 134 days later, we have done nothing.

Last week, the United States Senate voted down the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have required background checks for all gun sales. The bill even contained a provision that outlawed a national gun registry, which was the main worry of many conservatives. Only one word can describe their inaction: shameful.

Sensible people may disagree on the ways to best combat gun violence in America. We may disagree on whether Manchin-Toomey bill would have prevented the tragedy that took place last December. We may even disagree on whether we should have to wait for another Newtown before we talk about gun violence, when every day our cities are ravaged by urban warfare.

But we can agree on many things. We can agree that Americans, as a general rule, have the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment. And we can agree that there should be some exceptions to that rule. We can agree that terrorists, the mentally ill and violent offenders should not be given firearms.

Even by that standard, our current laws are a joke.

On the terrorist watch list? No worries, you can buy an AK-47. Rejected because of a mental illness? Try the gun store down the road. Have a history of violence? Check out ArmsList.com. Virtually anyone can buy deadly weapons with ease. In America, It’s harder to buy a beer than a gun.

We don’t know why 45 Democrats and Republicans voted against sensible regulation. But we know that they represent just 37 percent of the US population and that they have received nearly $8 million from the gun lobby. We know that they ignored the 90 percent of Americans who support universal background checks. And we know that if we speak as loudly as those who opposed this bill, they will be forced to listen.

Congress didn’t do its job. Now, it’s time for American citizens to do ours. Some already have.

Gabby Giffords — the former Democratic representative from Arizona, and a proud gun owner who was shot in the head almost two and a half years ago — launched a series of ads targeting the politicians who voted against this bill. One of her targets, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has dropped 15 percent in the polls since she voted against universal background checks

Like Gabby Giffords, we can fight back. We can show our elected officials that one cowardly act won’t silence us. We can pick up our phones and call our senators, then speak our mind at the ballot box in November.

Or we can also do what we normally do: nothing. We can refuse to take action as men and women with guns kill in towns and cities every day.

Most of us have done nothing. Sure, we talk about gun control in classes and dining halls. Sure, we harangue the Senate and the death of Manchin-Toomey. But we are otherwise silent. We don’t agitate or protest. And so we, with our political apathy, are as much to blame as our senators.

If we continue to do nothing, we must ask ourselves: How many times are we going to find ourselves recovering from tragedies? How many times must we comfort grieving mothers and fathers, and bury dozens of caskets — as happens every day in America? How many times will we let people die before we say enough is enough?

It’s about time we did more than just talk amongst ourselves. It’s about time we do something. If you want to tell our senators now is the time for courage, join the parents of the 20 Newtown children in sending a message.

What we tell our elected officials now will not erase what happened at Sandy Hook. Or bring back the lives lost that day. Or ease Newtown’s ongoing pain. But it will send a message. And in a democracy, messages are important.

Vinay Nayak is a junior in Davenport College. He works for Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that advocates gun responsibility. Contact him at vinay.nayak@yale.edu .

This column is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to continue.

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