LIKE MANY PEOPLE, I remember where I was and what I was doing on December 14, 2012, when news broke that a shooter had taken the lives of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And, like many in the wake of the sadness and horror, I thought this might be the “enough is enough” moment, when even the staunchest gun rights defenders and their supporters in Congress would be moved to work toward common sense measures that help save lives. We were wrong.
Since that day, the United States has seen well over 250,000 more deaths attributed to gun violence – more than 100 killed and a mass shooting of four or more people happening every day. And Congress has done nothing.
That’s why grassroots activism for sensible gun laws is more important than ever, and the work of Stop Handgun Violence is as critical now as it was at its founding 25 years ago.
Rather than working to ban all firearms, Stop Handgun Violence was born on the premise that gun violence could be curbed through education, public awareness, effective law enforcement, and common sense gun laws – while still protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. Partnering with Michael Kennedy, whose father and uncle were murdered with guns, we set out to change the traditionally polarized conversation around gun violence.
Over the past quarter century, we have worked with elected officials in a bipartisan way to enact the most effective gun laws in the country, and first in the nation gun industry regulations and consumer safety standards for all guns sold in the Commonwealth.
Massachusetts has passed renewable gun licensing and registration laws allowing police to have discretion in issuing all gun licenses, private sale background checks, and a permanent ban on weapons of war – including military style assault rifles, high capacity ammunition magazines, and bump stocks. We require gun safety training and safe storage for all guns not in the owner’s direct control. We have strengthened our domestic violence protections and passed an extreme risk protection order (Red Flag Law).
The Commonwealth is now a model for the nation in gun safety and gun violence prevention – without banning most guns. This work has helped reduce the rate of gun deaths in Massachusetts by 40 percent since 1994 and make urban Massachusetts consistently one of the safest states in the nation when it comes to gun injuries and deaths.
But our work in Massachusetts is far from complete. Massachusetts still has a strong gun lobby that resists bills that would make it harder for dangerous individuals to get a gun. They try every year to loosen our gun laws, and cloud data analysis that provide a clear view of where guns used to commit crimes in the Commonwealth are coming from.
Federally, we are fighting gun lobby bills that would weaken our state laws, by allowing anyone with a permit from any state to carry loaded concealed guns in every state despite the fact that most states do not perform thorough background checks or require gun licenses allowing police chiefs discretion on awarding permits. More than 400 police chiefs from across the nation oppose this legislation.
We’re working with our national partners to pass legislation requiring background checks on all gun purchases and extreme risk protection order legislation. Most Americans support this type of legislation, but it has stalled in the US Senate for more than 100 days since it passed the House. We’re also providing resources and sharing effective strategies to help other states pass the gun laws Massachusetts has proven work.
As much progress has been made, gun violence continues to tear apart families and largely urban communities in Massachusetts. Every 38 hours, someone is killed with a gun in the Commonwealth. Every 30 minutes a kid is shot and every 3 hours a kid is killed with a firearm in the US. Massachusetts still falls victim to the closest state with the weakest gun laws, allowing guns to be purchased without background checks and then transported across state lines. With 60 percent of guns used in crimes coming from out of state, we know that helping to strengthen our neighbors’ gun laws will have a ripple effect. Gun laws save lives and if every state had as few gun deaths per capita as Massachusetts does, 27,000 lives would be saved each year.
We are thrilled that Gen Z activists have stepped into the arena. Last summer, we worked with March for Our Lives student organizers from Massachusetts and Parkland, Florida, on a 50 Mile More March from Worcester to Smith and Wesson headquarters in Springfield where the AR 15 military style assault weapon used at Parkland was made. This spring, we partnered with Boston University School of Public Health to organize a three-day summit with students from across New England. We taught them about gun laws, heard from researchers, and helped them to network with their community members from across New England. We will continue to support and mentor these youth leaders, helping them find their footing in this rapidly growing student led gun violence prevention movement.
As Stop Handgun Violence celebrates a quarter century of success on Thursday, we’re mindful that challenges remain. On October 25, we’ll be back at work, because we have proven the gun lobby’s worst nightmare – sensible gun laws save lives. Over the past 25 years, more than 850,000 Americans have died from gun violence. Until every family and community in Massachusetts and beyond is safe and we’re able to replicate our effective gun violence prevention laws nationwide, Stop Handgun Violence will continue its vital life-saving work.
John Rosenthal co-founded Stop Handgun Violence with Michael Kennedy in 1994. The nonprofit organization works to prevent firearm violence through public awareness, education, policy advocacy, and law enforcement strategies – without banning guns.