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August 12, 2019

Bay State Banner (Op-Ed): Waging peace, healing our nation

Together we are grieving from 33,708 violent gun attacks since the beginning of 2019.

We have suffered 255 mass shootings this year – that’s more than 1 mass shooting a day. And there are thousands more gun violence tragedies in this country that never get covered. But just because it doesn’t make the national headlines doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.

For a family it mattered. For a community, it mattered.

With every bullet that’s fired, with every life that is stolen, with every community that is torn apart – we are becoming increasingly traumatized. This is about the mothers and fathers with broken spirits and broken hearts. This is about brothers with deep wounds and invisible scars. This is about children who have attended more funerals than graduation parties.

This is about preserving our collective humanity. This is about ending a public health crisis. Now is the time to wage peace.

The Massachusetts 7th congressional district is one of the most diverse and unequal districts in the country and that is for every issue, including trauma. Across my district, there are thousands of people who have been robbed of loved ones. For communities like mine, which are disproportionately impacted by violence, the collective impact of violence-related trauma can create significant inequities in health outcomes, educational attainment, and economic opportunity. Since January, there have been 309 incidents of gun violence in my district alone. We need policies that are survivor-led, victim-centered, and offender-sensitive in order to break cycles of trauma that perpetuate violence and corrode opportunity.

Moreover, we face the systemic challenge of a divisive administration. The occupant of the White House is a dangerous, racist, hateful demagogue who intentionally dehumanizes black and brown communities and encourages terrorism. From xenophobia, islamophobia and anti-Semitism — the Trump Administration eagerly demonizes activists, religious groups and groups with differing political ideologies. Our society has become all too ready to shame, slander and surveil Latinx and Muslims all the while ignoring white supremacist terrorism. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that white supremacist terrorism more than doubled in 2017 with far-right extremist groups and white supremacists “responsible for 59 percent of all extremist-related fatalities in the US in that same year.”

In June, in partnership with organizers, advocates, and survivors, I introduced a resolution calling for a National Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month — a month to commemorate the voices of communities impacted by gun violence — to center their stories, their struggles, and their truth. When I convened survivors, advocates, faith leaders, community activists and clinicians at my Dorchester office earlier this summer, a local doctor offered “We are taught how to stitch a bullet wound. But we aren’t taught to ask who is this person? How could I have stopped this?” Together, we must ask those questions.

Healing is not a linear process. We must center the needs and experiences of survivors of trauma and raise awareness of the legacy of policies that perpetuate generational trauma. It is time to move with precision and a deep sense of responsibility to save lives, to support survivors and to chart a path forward:

  1. We must condemn Mitch McConnell’s complicity and inaction and demand that he calls up commonsense gun violence prevention legislation that the House passed this February (H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112).
  2. We must pass an assault weapons ban: Massachusetts is one of a few states to have taken this critical step and without a doubt it has saved lives. No one needs to own a weapon of war.
  3. We must reduce the number of guns on our streets through a federal gun buyback program.
  4. We must disrupt gun trafficking: Senator Markey, Rep. Kennedy and I introduced the Making America Safe and Secure (MASS) Act to encourage states to adopt stricter gun standards that prevent gun trafficking — which is a main driver of gun death in our communities. We must also pass Rep. Kelly’s (D-IL) Preventing Gun Trafficking Act, which I co-sponsor.
  5. We need a Survivors Bill of Rights for those robbed of loved ones and those who survived violence incidents. From funeral costs to unsolved homicides and unserved justice, the federal government has a role to play.

We will continue to speak the names of those stolen from us by gun violence. We must organize and mobilize at every level of government to address the availability of guns on our streets and the underlying trauma that leads a person to pick up a gun in the first place. We need to turn towards each other, not away, and treat this like a public health crisis choking at our promise and our collective future.

Long gone are the days of thoughts and prayers. Now is the time for policy and change.

Ayanna Pressley represents the 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Milton, Randolph and Somerville.