Change is Possible
With toil and perseverance
In the days since the slaughter of 19 young children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, my sorrow has only deepened and my anger intensified.
Sorrow and anger. Anger and sorrow. And a rising tide of rage. It is less waves of emotion and more an eddy, swirling, mixing, churning, never still. I know I am not alone.
First and foremost, our hearts go out to parents, grandparents, children, friends, and other loved ones of those who were killed. We think of a community torn asunder. We do not forget the other little kids who were injured and those who witnessed the carnage. Playmates, siblings, parents gone forever.
It is all too much, the very definition of senseless, but we cannot afford to look away. We know that. We stare into the pictures of smiling little faces full of life. We mourn with the full intensity of human emotions the cruel fate that took them from this world before they barely had a chance to live.
But of course it wasn’t an act of nature that perpetrated this tragedy. It was a murderer, armed and abetted by all who think there is nothing wrong with troubled young people having access to weapons of war.
In the days since this horror, the world has descended on this grieving town. This is a global story, because almost no one outside of this country can understand how it happens, again and again, on repeat. With each new round, the tally of lives cut short and forever changed grows.
It is a challenge in a publication called Steady to be steady in the face of this unmitigated travesty. One of the reasons people become reporters is the belief that if the public knows the truth about the world and its injustices, then change can come. But with this story of guns and mass shootings, there doesn’t seem to be anything that can break the logjam of inaction, even the deaths of children.
All of us in the press who report on national stories have had to cover school shootings and gun violence more generally. It is a ubiquitous aspect of American life. It is disheartening to go back to what we’ve written in the past and see it is just as applicable today. Again and again, we mourn the loss, we decry the inaction, we bear witness to this uniquely American phenomenon, and we note the inevitable hopelessness among all the millions who desperately want something to change for the better.
We know we cannot become inured to this. But we also know the seemingly inevitable cycle of what comes next, which has always been nothing — except the next shooting.
We know why this is the case. The Republican Party, by and large, has made unrestricted access to guns a defining ticket for membership in their club. Guns appeal to a certain definition of empowerment and strength that is completely on brand with a wider rallying cry: Republican voters are told that the world they knew is being taken from them. Guns are sold as a way to protect themselves from the onslaught, to control their destiny. It’s not just self-defense. It’s a defining cultural trait. In this framing, there can be no compromise, because compromise is akin to surrender.
Now to be clear, the United States has a long history of gun ownership, and the politics around this issue are not simply between those who own firearms and those who do not. Even many gun owners believe there should be limits. And most who advocate for gun control measures do not envision making all firearms illegal.
As this latest shooting demonstrates anew, the usual talking points from the political right fail when forced to contend with reality. We have heard so much about “good guys with guns” being the answer, only to learn with shock and deep disappointment the failures of law enforcement’s response in Uvalde. We are told that it’s fine that someone too young to buy a beer can legally purchase assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. And ultimately, we are told nothing can be done, by people who want to do nothing.
Instead of leadership we see politicians like Ted Cruz, who can’t even answer the simplest and most straightforward question: Why does this happen only in America?
With this macabre theater of the absurd once again on full display, it is tempting to be cynical — this is America in the third decade of the 21st century, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. Or is it?
Here is where I want to reach out for a little hope. Not ignoring the hard realities but tending at least some embers of hope. Is this time different? The safe money is on betting no. But, to this reporter anyway, it feels different, fostering optimism that this time could be, might be different. The level of outcry seems higher. The anger, laser-focused on the politicians of inaction, seems more intense. And the actions of groups you don’t normally see advocating for change in national gun policy seem surprising.
Several examples of this phenomenon have come from the world of sports. I find this important because sports tend to eschew pure party politics, which is what gun reform has become. Consequently, the outcry from teams and individuals strikes me as symbolic of a broader belief in American society that something has to change, that change will require outrage at the facts around gun violence as well as action, namely by voting.
Here are a few examples: This past week, the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays used their Twitter accounts during a recent baseball game to post facts about guns instead of what was happening on the field:
It wasn’t just baseball:
And then the were the statements by Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr that have gotten tens of millions of views:
We know all of the statements in the world will not mean anything different unless there is a political will to make new laws. There are two key ways this can happen. Those who favor more gun regulations can win enough races to effect policy changes. Or those already in office can be persuaded to pass legislation that at least begins to address some of the points on which there is broad public consensus, such as universal background checks, “red flag” laws (removing guns from people who are considered to pose a danger), banning assault rifles, and maybe even raising the age to legally purchase a firearm to 21.
If gun regulations are going to be a driving motivation for voters in November and beyond, the issue will have to stay relevant. That means that the energy we observe now must be maintained. And we must desperately hope it won’t take another mass shooting to keep it in the public’s consciousness. That said, anger is a powerful motivator to vote. And people are certainly angry. Will they still be that way at election time? Perhaps, with abortion rights also under attack, a sense that this is not the America people want to live in will compel more voters to go to the polls and pull the lever for candidates who favor some sanity on gun laws. Or maybe not. We will find out come November.
At the same time, perhaps the sheer horror of this event, and the ages of the children, will spur at least some action in Washington. Again, it is doubtful, but maybe not hopeless. Public pressure can be brought to bear. Those who believe that we need dramatic change to really make America safer will almost inevitably be disappointed with where debate and compromise lead. But if even one life is saved by new laws — even tiny steps forward — it’s worth it.
There is also the question of momentum. Showing that people will vote on gun control and demonstrating that there can be agreement in government on measures that turn the tide on what we have seen in recent years — an orgy of gun proliferation legislation in state houses across America — will change the national narrative.
From civil rights, to the Vietnam War, to gay marriage, to even cracking down on second-hand cigarette smoke, I have seen movements of contentious social change seem to make no progress for long stretches of time. And then, where once change felt impossible, it suddenly seems possible. And then more change follows. The struggle often remains, but the world is changed for the better.
None of this just happens, however. It requires sustained engagement. It requires not getting too discouraged or demoralized by the setbacks. Sadly, it may mean many more of our fellow Americans will suffer and die before the change that would have saved their lives is implemented.
In other words, change often looks impossible until suddenly it’s not. But that sudden change most often isn’t actually sudden. Because it takes years of toil, perseverance, and, tragically, additional sacrifice.
I desperately hope we are in that situation with gun violence. We will not remake this country overnight into a place like other developed nations with far fewer firearms. There will be more mass shootings. And we cannot forget all the other ways guns cause harm, in individual incidents, domestic violence, accidental injury, and suicide.
But as I see a groundswell of outrage and determination, I find hope — and steadiness — in the knowledge that other movements have succeeded before. It means never giving up, on the energy it takes to make the difference, or the hope that guides you along the way.