On Monday, June 20, the United States Senate failed to pass four separate gun-sale control measures, with bills coming from both the Democratic and Republican sides. When the legislation failed, it didn't just die there on the floor of our government, tucked away from the general public. The failings of our government on one of the most important issues parents face in 2016 sent a message, loud and clear, that when it comes to gun violence prevention, America just doesn't want to do better. At all.
According to CNN, the measures put forth included a proposal which banned the sale of weapons or explosives to anyone on the government’s terrorist watch list, and another which would've require the 72-hour delay of all gun sales to anyone who is, according to the New York Times, “a terrorism suspect or the subject of a terrorism investigation in the last five years.” Another would have required background checks for the vast majority of gun sales, including those at gun auctions and on the internet. The last focused on the mental health system. It would have, according to CNN, “required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database," and it also included a provision which would've alerted law enforcement agencies when someone put on the terror watch list in the last five years bought a gun.
The Democratic bill, sponsored by Dianne Feinstein, which banned the sale of weapons or explosives to anyone on the government's terrorist watch list, was a far better bill than the Republicans', which would have just added a 72-hour waiting period. The Democratic bill requiring states to contribute mental health information to a national database failed, revealing a failure to have a conversation about mental health rather one about the failure of our leadership. The last Democratic bill, which would have required background checks for all gun sales, period, also failed. If you consider the money given to Congresspeople from the National Rifle Association, it would make sense to believe they'd be disinclined to vote for any gun control measures, even the lenient Republican ones. Even that one would have given us some measure of protection.
If their government doesn't care if they die, how do I keep them alive?
The Senate’s gun safety legislation failure failed me as a parent. It failed my sons, and it failed my family. It failed families across the country. It failed us all. America has a mass-shooting problem. After a while, these places just become names: Columbine, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Aurora. But the memories of the violence linger. And now, Pulse, the site of the worst mass shooting in American history, where 49 club-goers were mowed down before the shooter was killed by police, will become yet another name. Our government may be willing to look the other way, but as parents, we can't. I now wonder what to tell my kids. Do I encourage them to avoid the mall? Their school classrooms? Movie theaters? Bars and nightclubs? Concert venues? If their government doesn't care if they die, how do I keep them alive?
The aftermath of the Senate's failure to advance the four gun-sale proposals rewards American parents with yet another thing to fear. We don’t just worry about scraped knees or hurt feelings, car accidents or lurking predators, we worry about the fact that, in a public place, someone will choose to open fire on us and our babies, killing or wounding them. We imagine blood on linoleum, tourniquets, and our full-of-life children playing dead in order to save themselves. The vast majority of those shooters obtained their guns legally and after Monday's failure, they will continue to do so. So how do I stop the senseless violence from claiming my children? How does anyone?
Dylann Roof bought his weapons a mile from my house. What would have stopped him from coming down my street? Knocking on my door?
Congress has failed us, plain and simple. They failed me, personally, and they failed thousands of other parents. They failed to quell the terrible images in our heads of our children bleeding out. They failed to make us feel safe in our malls, grocery stores, movie theaters, and even our places of worship. They failed to assuage our worries about ISIS' fighters, about radical terrorists of all stripes. In their most devastating failure, they made clear that their feelings on our children.
Both sides of the aisle failed to pass bills banning terrorist suspects from getting their hands on guns. Someone in an active terror investigation — not just Islamic terror, but domestic terror, white-power terror, anti-government terror — can waltz into a gun store, pass a background check, and get an AR-15, the gun used in the Pulse shooting, the Aurora shooting, and others. They can also buy explosives. The Senate has failed parents in the most basic job of government: it has failed to keep our families safe from enemies, both foreign and domestic. It's failed on its promise to protect our children. It has failed to remind us that we, the people, are at the heart of what they do. It has failed on the most basic level, and the reverberations of this failure will ding again and again and again in our heads, each and every time we're asked to offer our thoughts and prayers to more victims.
In South Carolina, the state where we live, guns are now allowed in bars and restaurants.
Part of the Senate proposal required expanded background checks. Right now, anyone can purchase a gun at a gun show, or on the internet, without investigation. That includes convicted felons. Here, again, the Senate failed our families, and this one hit particularly close to home. Dylann Roof bought his weapons a mile from my house. What would have stopped him from coming down my street? Knocking on my door? Our neighbor's? A school? The failed background check could have prevented the deaths of nine at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. What if it had been our place of worship? A friend's? My son's classmate's?
Background checks could help keep people who simply shouldn’t have guns from having them. In South Carolina, the state where we live, guns are now allowed in bars and restaurants. Now a simple family dinner is riddled with fear: What if someone walks into a restaurant and opens fire? What if my sons, years from now, are at a bar and someone armed and dangerous begins shooting at them? What if, what if, what if?
I now tend to frequent restaurants with “no gun” signs. I worry that my 2-and-half year old will be accidentally shot by someone who should have failed a background check. Gun violence prevention changed the way I look at the world. Instead of teaching my children about their friendly neighbors, should I encourage them to view everyone around them as a potential threat? The Senate refused to help parents banish that fear. And the last thing parents need is more fear.
The Senate has done nothing in the face of gun violence in America. They’ve done nothing, that is, but fail to assuage my fears as a parent and a citizen. They’ve failed my family. They’ve failed my kids, and they’ve failed parents everywhere. I’m still afraid, Senators. And you're doing nothing to help.