We are only 26 days into 2023. Less than a month into this new year, America has already witnessed nearly 40 mass shootings — averaging to almost two per day. As a result, at least 69 people have lost their lives. To say that America has a deep and disturbing gun violence epidemic is an understatement.
Consider what happened in California over the past weekend. On Saturday night, an Asian man opened fire at a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California, killing at least 11 people and injuring many others. A city composed of over 60% Asian Americans will be forever changed. This tragedy and trauma are permanently etched into the community. Less than 72 hours later, not sparing any time for Monterey Park residents and the Asian American community to grieve, another shooting happened in nearby Half Moon Bay. At least seven people are dead. In fewer than three days, 18 lives were extinguished in two mass shootings less than 100 miles apart.
California is hardly alone on the list of 2023’s mass shootings. The state wasn’t even alone in mass shootings over the same weekend; there were also mass shootings at a club in Baton Rouge, Louisana, in a neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana, and at a casino in Ticino Resorts, Mississippi. In the 20 days prior, there were mass shootings in states ranging from Illinois to North Carolina and from Texas to Utah. January has yet to end, and already the names of communities and states plagued by our nation’s broken gun laws are simply too numerous to list.
As heartbreaking and enraging as the number of mass shootings is, what happens next is predictable — and even more infuriating. Lawmakers will offer their thoughts and prayers for the victims and community. The media will cover the topic of gun violence for a couple of days, at most, and then move on to the next issue. Then, after a few days, America will move on, except for those still fighting for their lives, coping with life-altering injuries, or mourning the loss of lives cut short by gun violence.
Indeed, this cycle has happened all too many times. No matter the scale of the carnage, no matter the age of the victims, the increasing body count, or the pleas for action on gun safety reform, nothing meaningful happens. Make no mistake: lawmakers — the majority of which are Republican — care more about receiving money from the NRA and maintaining power than about protecting American lives. Their inaction has had a death toll directly connected to it. Compounding the tragedy, Americans are becoming exhausted, numbed, and hopeless, wondering when is enough finally enough?
But we cannot allow numbness or hopelessness to be an option. Now is not the time to cede ground because Republicans refuse to act. Rather, it is time that we must recommit to and double down on our fight to reform our nation’s gun laws.
Though counterintuitive, given that Republicans control the House, the first place to take the fight for better gun laws is the House of Representatives. With the 118th Congress in session for its third full week, this is an opportune moment for the entire nation to put pressure on Republican representatives and see how they will respond.
To date, Republicans have shown that they have no intention of passing meaningful legislation or helping American families. For instance, in the three weeks Republicans have been in control of the House, they have formed a subcommittee that would launch baseless investigations into the Biden administration and Democrats. As one of their first real policy proposals, the GOP is not lowering costs for American families. Instead, Republicans are serious about imposing a nationwide 30% sales tax and gutting social security and medicare.
However, after so many mass shootings in 2023 already, there is a window for Republicans to act on gun reform legislation. Poll after poll indicates that there is a real hunger from Americans to solve our nation’s gun laws — whether it be instituting measures like banning assault weapons or eliminating bump stocks. As Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy has an opportunity to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats to make millions of lives safer. He has a chance to show young people, in particular, that he cares more about us than special interests and power. Put simply, even after his public humiliation as he pursued the Speakership, passing gun reform legislation could reshape Kevin McCarthy’s legacy.
If the past is prologue, however, expecting action from Republicans in the House is like asking a lost person to provide directions. The likelihood of Republicans acting on this issue—after repeatedly voting against gun reform bills brought to the floor by Democrats—is slim. But that doesn’t mean Republican elected officials shouldn’t be made to feel pressure from the majority of Americans who support common-sense gun measures. It would be telling if, even as voters demand more gun laws, Republicans refuse to listen.
Short of Republican action in the House, we can’t lose sight of the role that state legislatures and local governments play. Of all the positive news from the 2022 midterm election, one that is most comforting is the number of state legislatures and governorships that flipped from Republican to Democrat. It will be states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, and others that will be at the frontline of passing necessary gun legislation.
To see the power of what Democratic state and local governments can do, look no further than Illinois. Following the horrific Highland Park mass shooting on July 4th, lawmakers crafted a bold gun reform bill to ban assault weapons, impose red flag laws, and hold illegal gun traffickers accountable. After tireless work, lawmakers passed the bill as one of the first acts in the new session, and Governor JB Pritzker signed it into law.
To encourage other states to follow Illinois’ lead, it is imperative that we do not give up. Although change feels distant, there is tremendous power in our collective voice. We are at a point in America where, no matter what party one identifies with and regardless of age, gun violence has likely affected someone each of us knows.
Now is when we must channel our frustration and anger into action — for all those who cannot. Putting an end to this madness requires all of us to use our voices and demand our elected officials answer: How many more lives must be lost?