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Letter: We need to act on gun violence (free content)

(Editor’s Note: These comments were delivered by District 233 board member Steve Anderson at the Feb. 21 school board meeting. The Chronicle asked his permission to run his remarks as a Letter to the Editor.)

Ten mass shootings over a three-day period in our country this week (Feb. 12-18). All together 13 dead and 46 injured including 13 teens and children as young as 1 year old.  

The Gun Violence Archive described it as “certainly high for this time of year,” like it’s a weather forecast or a mood. It doesn’t matter either if you’re in a red state or a blue state as Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana and Illinois made that list.  

This doesn’t even include what happened on the campus of Michigan State University, which left many H-F parents shook as they awaited a call back from their Spartans. To be clear, the call they awaited was not to share Valentine’s Day well wishes, it was to make sure their child was still alive. It just sickens you.

That particular incident and others brought rushing back memories of November 1, 1991, when my wife and I, and our fellow University of Iowa Hawkeyes, experienced what was one of the first mass shootings at a school in our country.  That day a disgruntled graduate student entered a department meeting and opened fire before heading up the street to the registrar’s office and taking two more lives and paralyzing an innocent graduate student before killing himself. 

The department meeting was four floors directly below where I was working that day and adjacent to the office where my girlfriend and now wife, Laurie, worked.  I’ll never forget the feeling of sheltering in place, hiding under my desk for what seemed a lifetime before being rushed out of the building by police. Then I stood on a street corner in the snow with my diminutive boss, wrapped in blankets.  

Naturally there was no internet to keep us apprised of what was going on, but the rumors were that an office secretary was among the dead. As my boss and I looked around and counted heads, we were sure it was Laurie.  I’ll also never forget the emotion of seeing Laurie walking towards us after leaving her class at Phillips Hall and asking us what all of the police presence was about. She was alive!  However, the relief would be short lived, as her boss, the department chair, as well as two other members of his staff had been killed. Laurie couldn’t leave her apartment for weeks.

While the Hawkeye community mourned, change was coming in the form of an assault weapons ban. (In 1994, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. Commonly called the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the law banned 19 assault weapons, as well as other semi-automatic firearms with two or more specific features. The ban expired in September 2004.) 

Mass shootings went down, as well as gun violence. Since that ban expired in 2004, we’ve seen a meteoric rise in mass shootings over the past 19 years as the availability of guns of all kinds has flourished. Today we have a battle across our country: some states are trying to ban deadly, military-grade assault weapons while other states forge ahead expanding and easing the rules around gun ownership.  

While the science is clear that putting more guns out leads to more gun deaths and mass shootings, we still can’t agree on the root cause. Some argue it’s all about a mental health crisis and making sure we don’t let people with diagnosed mental health issues get guns. It’s true we have a worsening mental health crisis in our country. That has been the case for decades, yet we continue to use it as a crutch while the gun lobbyists strong arm our politicians.

Our leaders have rewritten the Second Amendment, written in the time of muskets, to protect the ability of you and me to purchase and own the same weapons our military uses. I cannot imagine that the framers of our Constitution were aiming to protect that. They were clearly protecting our right to own a gun (single-load musket) as being part of a well-regulated militia (police force or otherwise) to stand up to the tyrannical rule of the British.  

In summary, if you think the gun situation in our country is fine the way it is, then okay.  I’d only ask you to put yourself in my shoes in 1991, or a parent sprinting to their child’s school after receiving the call of an active shooter, or the shoes of anyone who has lost a loved one to gun violence.

If you’re still OK with things, then I relent.  

However, if you’re angry as hell like I am and sick of this becoming normal for our kids, then take action.  Write your leaders starting with the president, Supreme Court and leaders of Congress.  Join the many groups trying to take action like Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action. Be the change you wish to see in the world. 

I’d ask our school leadership to start the conversation with our students and create spaces for them to discuss the issues surrounding guns and victims of gun violence. They need to know that what is happening in our country is NOT normal and that it can be done differently and better. 

We are the only developed country in the world with this problem. The time to act has come and gone, we need to be better for our kids and for future generations to come.

Steve Anderson

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