Gilroy, California. El Paso, Texas. Dayton, Ohio. Over the course of two weeks, these communities have become yet another footnote in a history linked by the devastation of gun violence, not on the battlefield but in our neighborhoods and communities. If your life has not been personally touched by these incidents, don’t be complacent. We are ALL impacted and are slowly being forever changed as a nation if we don’t say ‘enough!’
Our entire nation is on edge but will we just move on or stand up as a people and change this course? Children fear going to school and have to endure active shooter drills in their classrooms. In Times Square, people started to flee and take shelter after a motorcycle backfired. Many are afraid to congregate at festivals, places of worship, shopping malls, and concerts – places that have become common targets. No one feels safe anywhere and the sad truth is -- they shouldn’t.
Our nation is blessed with community-based human services organizations that understand what brain science tells us – that the toll violence takes on our children and families impacts everyone, whether a direct victim or not. These organizations are often those who see firsthand what trauma resulting from violence does to people through the work they do to support first responders, families of victims and those facing horrific lifetime injuries. We know from brain science research the impact of toxic stress that can result from prolonged exposure to violence or adversity. Prolonged toxic stress can bring about chemical changes in the brain, which can lead to long term stress-related diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, mental illness, addiction and even cancer. In other words, the crisis we face is a public health crisis that requires a comprehensive public health response.
We understand that there is no one cause for the immenseness of the challenge and the solutions are multiple. Some have suggested that this is purely a mental health issue, which flies in the face of fact. According to the American Psychological Association, people with serious mental illness commit only three percent of violent crimes.
That is why our organizations are calling for a range of immediate actions to ensure that mass shootings and gun violence do not become our new normal. These actions include:
- We need common sense gun laws.
- We need to demand more from our political leaders. Historically we know that it is times like these when our leaders should be calling our nation to its better self. We need to hold one another accountable to building, not eroding, the fabric of civil society that Americans have enjoyed and set as an example to the world. The divisive rhetoric that has become so commonplace is eroding our institutions and tearing our nation apart, not just nationally but in our neighborhoods. Words matter. When political leaders use demeaning and dehumanizing terms in reference to racial, ethnic and other groups of people, they are dividing us and making it okay for violent individuals to act out their hatred and anger in horrible ways.
- We all need to love each other more. America’s strength has always been its diversity. Families today are more isolated and have fewer meaningful connections with, neighbors, coworkers, and members of their communities. We need to recognize everyone’s humanity in our daily lives, as we walk down the street, are standing in line, in our offices or shopping. We need to remember that love is at the heart of the American spirit and the values that have served as a beacon to so many around the world throughout our nation’s history.
As human services community-based organizations we do so much more than provide services – we build the foundational supports that enable individuals, families and communities to be resilient and to flourish. It’s time for our network to come together and raise our voices to call on our nation’s leaders to take a public health approach to gun violence – one that puts prevention, and the health and welfare of our nation’s people above special interests that seek to divide us.
There is no time to waste. We all share in humanity with one another. We are all someone’s child, someone’s relative, someone’s friend, someone’s neighbor. We need to understand that the solutions are not just for others to act on, we have to take personal responsibility to love one another more and to show care and compassion. We must no longer sit back but speak out, act, mobilize and do everything in our power to stop these senseless tragedies.