My parents taught me that we all have a responsibility to step up when there is injustice in the world. I’m running for office in part because I know that one day my son will ask me what I did when Trump was elected president. So I stepped up and left my pediatrics practice of 16 years to run for Congress.
Now, just over a year later, we’re at another crossroads when each of us can choose to act or to sit still. Seventeen innocent students and teachers lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month. I choose to act. I choose to speak up. I choose to walk out alongside my teenage patients and millions of young people like them across the country at the ENOUGH National School Walkout, because we deserve a better and safer future. And I’m calling on Congress to reject the gun lobby and take immediate action on gun safety.
In the wake of several of the deadliest mass shootings in our history, it’s past time to take a deep look at the role guns play in our society. We have an epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Americans are 25 times more likely to die from gun violence than in any other developed nation. Guns are the third leading cause of death in children—on average, seven children die every day from guns. And as a pediatrician who takes care of depressed teenagers, I am keenly aware that 60 percent of gun deaths in this country are suicides.
Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We cannot accept these shootings as normal, nor can we let ourselves become complacent and think that we are powerless to stop them. We have the tools to fully address gun violence. Current proposals to ban bump stocks, limit the size of high capacity ammunition clips, penalize agencies for not reporting to the Background Check system, and raise the minimum age to purchase a weapon to 21 are great first steps. We need to go further, and we need the NRA out of our politics. Our political leaders should have the courage and conviction to stand up to the gun lobby and keep our communities and children safe.
When it comes to speaking out against the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians, I have been the loudest candidate running for Washington’s 8th District. The Republican candidate in this race, Dino Rossi, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from the NRA. He politically profits from an industry that spends millions to stop common-sense gun safety policies and makes it easier for individuals to do harm to innocent people. I am disappointed that my fellow Democrats, as far as I have seen, have largely remained silent on the NRA in public. But I am not afraid. I have been an outspoken critic of the gun lobby, even repeatedly calling on Dino Rossi to refuse future support from the NRA and donate every cent he’s received to date to our local public schools to fund the type of active shooter training that saved lives in Parkland. I will not back down, and I will not stay silent while the gun lobby puppeteers our government.
This is also a good time to talk about ways we can protect schools, but we should not consider school safety and gun safety identical issues. We can—and should—make our schools more secure. We can—and should—address mental health concerns, bullying, and teen anger. But that does not mean we shouldn’t act on gun violence at the same time. To protect our children, let’s look for ways to secure schools without bringing more guns into their hallways and classrooms (as a scientist, I have to point out that there is no research to support arming teachers). Let’s train students, teachers, and staff how to respond in emergency situations. The active shooter trainings done in Parkland saved countless lives. Heroic teachers acted quickly and knew exactly what to do to protect their students.
The issue of teenage suicide is often overlooked in mainstream debates about gun control, but as a pediatrician, it is something I think about constantly. There are 20,000 gun suicides in the U.S. each year. There is often only one difference between a depressed teenager who contemplates suicide and one who completes it: access to a gun at home. Every day of my career, I have talked with parents about gun safety. But in the end, all too many guns are owned unsafely and easily accessible to children. We need to educate parents and gun owners to make sure guns are locked up and never get into the hands of children.
Again, the gun lobby has put up barriers to real action. The NRA pushed the Republican Congress to prohibit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from researching gun violence as a public health issue. As a result, there’s not enough data to have a truly informed debate or to develop evidence-based solutions. We base all other health challenges, from highway safety to cancer, on research and data. But the CDC is not allowed to investigate gun violence in the same way. This is unacceptable and must be reversed immediately.
Even without data, there are simple steps that we can take now to prevent the deaths of innocent Americans. These common-sense solutions have broad, bipartisan support. People across the political spectrum agree that military-style assault weapons must be kept out of the hands of people under the age of 21 and those who would do harm to themselves or others. There is broad support for universal and comprehensive background checks to ensure dangerous criminals, people in crisis and domestic abusers do not have access to guns. Gun owners want guns owned responsibly. Congress can pass these laws today.
We’re out of excuses for inaction. Our children are watching. They’re standing up without us because they’re tired of the same old lines that we hear after every mass shooting. History will show this as a tipping point on gun safety in the United States. Congress must act now.
We cannot let the frequency of these mass shootings lull us into helpless resignation. We must come together to protect our children and make our schools and communities safer. On March 14th, I’ll be joining high school students, teachers, other parents and all concerned members of our community and country for the National School Walkout. America: our children are watching, and in fact, leading. Let’s grow up and listen.
Dr. Kim Schrier is a pediatrician and Democratic candidate for Washington’s 8th Congressional District.