“People affected by everyday gun violence have to walk by the street corner where their best friend, their brother, their mother, their nephew, where they themselves were shot, and life goes on and on, as if we all haven’t just watched a loved one dying get put in the grave,” Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., told viewers of the Democratic National Convention.
Now 20, Gonzalez was at the vanguard of a wave of youth activism protesting gun violence in the aftermath of the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting, in which 17 people were killed and 17 others injured.
“The whole point of what I’m saying here is, until one of us, or all of us, stand up and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit by and watch the news treat these shootings like acts of God,’ gun violence isn’t just going to stop,” she said. Not “until there’s a force fighting harder against it.”
Gonzalez was joined at the virtual convention by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot at point-blank range in the head during an assassination attempt at a constituent greeting event in 2011. Six people died in the Tucson shooting.
Giffords was shown slowly playing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” on her French horn. Then she described the aftermath of the shooting, her speech deliberate, still affected by the damage to her brain.
“My recovery is a daily fight, but fighting makes me stronger. Words once came easily. Today I struggle to speak, but I have not lost my voice,” she said. “America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.
“We are at a crossroads. We can let the shootings continue, or we can act. We can protect our families, our future. We can vote. We can be on the right side of history. We must elect Joe Biden. He was there for me, he’ll be there for you too.”
Giffords and Gonzalez spoke the day after Biden officially became the Democratic nominee for president. Biden has a long history of calling for gun control and was instrumental in passing the 1994 assault weapons ban, which has since expired.
But his efforts have been stymied as well. After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Biden spearheaded White House efforts to push gun control legislation including universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines through Congress. The measures failed to get the support of 60 senators that is needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
President Trump’s gun policy mirrors traditional conservative thought that sees attempts to limit access to guns or ammunition as a violation of the 2nd Amendment. He has received substantial support from the National Rifle Assn., and frequently warns on the campaign trail that if a Democrat is elected president, he or she will appoint liberal judges who will take away law-abiding Americans’ guns.
In the aftermath of mass shootings, the president has at times expressed an openness to “sensible” restrictions on guns or ammunition, such as expanding background checks. However, with the exception of a ban on “bump stocks,” which the gunman in the Las Vegas mass shooting used to increase his rate of fire, Trump has not pursued action. After the Parkland school massacre, Trump spoke briefly of arming teachers as a deterrent.
Joining Giffords and Gonzalez in speaking about gun violence on Wednesday, DeAndra Dycus spoke for her son. Dre was 13 when he was shot in the head while dancing at a birthday party in Indianapolis in 2004. Now he is a quadriplegic who is unable to speak; he lives in a 24-hour care facility. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, Dycus said, she has only seen him three times since March and can’t hug him.
“One shot changed our lives forever,” she said.
“Today, my Dre does not talk. He does not walk. I know he knows me by the smile he shows when I walk in his room. But I’m unsure if he knows a gunshot has changed his life.”
Dycus said she knows her family is not alone in being touched by gun violence.
“In every town across America, there are families who know what a bullet can do,” she said. “That’s why I’m a mom who volunteers to stop this. President Trump, he doesn’t care. He didn’t care about the victims after Parkland, Las Vegas or El Paso. I want a president who cares about our pain and our grief.”