In May, I was honored to have a one-on-one discussion with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), the 2020 Democratic vice presidential nominee, as part of Moms Demand Action's Demanding Women series about gun violence prevention. When she got on screen, I greeted her and said, “How are you?” expecting to hear back, “Good, you?” Instead, the senator looked at me intensely and said, “Shannon, there’s so much suffering right now. Just so much suffering.”
Compare that response to President Donald Trump’s now-infamous comment about the rising death toll from COVID-19: “It is what it is.” That’s been President Trump’s attitude toward gun violence too. Inaction and indifference in the face of suffering has become the norm for this administration.
America is mired in two deadly public health crises: COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 165,000 people and, at the same time, gun violence continues to kill more than 100 Americans on average per day, wounding hundreds more. Sadly, our country’s gun violence epidemic didn’t end when the pandemic began (gun sales have surged, and our country has seen an uptick in deadly gun violence), and both crises are disproportionately devastating communities of color: Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide, and Black Americans are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white Americans from COVID-19.
During Monday’s #DemandingWomen conversation, Sen. @KamalaHarris shared her thoughts on how Stand Your Ground laws are making American communities less safe, particularly for young Black and brown men. pic.twitter.com/xXugeiLEiFMay 20, 2020
Recent polling shows the vast majority of Americans believe gun safety measures are growing more important in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Gun safety has become one of the defining issues of this election—one that moves people to get out and vote, especially women voters who will play a decisive role in electing our next president. I am part of an army of women who have made gun violence prevention the fight of our lives, and we’re proud to fight like hell to elect Vice President Biden and Senator Harris. We need a gun sense presidential ticket now more than ever before.
In addition to Senator Harris’ impressive credentials as a senator, state attorney general, and district attorney, and her longtime “F” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), Harris has spent her career voting for and enforcing the very laws that we know keep our communities safe. During her time in Congress, Senator Harris co-sponsored life-saving gun violence prevention legislation, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, and regulating assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and 3D-printed guns. She’s also worked to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, including abusive romantic partners and stalkers, people convicted of violent hate crimes, and those who pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. She fought to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and called out the NRA for its eagerness to put women’s lives on the line to sell more guns.
Meanwhile, President Trump hasn’t just failed to act on gun violence—he’s made it worse. The president has called for violence against peaceful protesters and chosen the NRA—which gave more money to his 2016 election efforts than any other outside group—over the American people time and time again. His relationship with the gun lobby has a very real human cost: 140,000 Americans have died from gun violence since he took office. Gun safety bills continue to sit on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk as people die in the streets.
The gun lobby has enjoyed three-and-a-half years of a puppet president willing to do just about anything to help them sell more guns, even at the expense of people’s lives. But now, because of our work, the NRA is crumbling. President Trump is down in the polls and the gun safety movement is poised to win big.
It’s clear America is not through the worst of the COVID-19 crisis. The overwhelming combination of death tolls from the pandemic and gun violence continue to climb. The stakes have never been higher, and we have never faced a starker choice than the one we will make in November about who we want to lead us through these crises. President Trump has shown us time and time again he is willing to put more guns on the streets, sow fear, encourage racism and hatred, and watch as the country goes up in flames like a tinderbox. In contrast, Vice President Biden and Senator Harris promise to lead with science, compassion, and action.
Americans deserve better than living in constant fear of losing a loved one to gun violence or COVID-19. We deserve leaders who understand that Americans are suffering from these dual crises, and who are ready to act. I’m ready to finally swear in our country’s first Black and Asian-American Madam Vice President. Our families’ lives—and our country’s future—depend on it.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action and the author of Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World.
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