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Uma Menon commentary: Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough

Summary: Thoughts and prayers do not bring people back from the dead. They do not erase the trauma — physical and mental — that survivors must endure for the rest of their lives. We owe it to these individuals and to our entire country to prevent these tragedies from occurring again.

Police officers stand together at a memorial dedicated to the 19 children and two adults killed on May 24th during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 31, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.
Police officers stand together at a memorial dedicated to the 19 children and two adults killed on May 24th during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 31, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.
(Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS)
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School has gotten more difficult for students in recent years. Competitive pressures have increased, college acceptance rates have gone down and inequalities between schools have risen.

And after last month, we’re once again called upon to confront another concern that affects the very existence of our futures: gun violence.

Each year in Florida, where I grew up, we sat through active shooter drills just as often as we prepared for hurricanes. We watched headlines of school after school being hit by tragedy. We witnessed the construction of wire fences around our school as a superficial form of safety.

What we didn’t see, however, was meaningful policy change. On May 24, there was news of yet another school shooting — this time in Uvalde, Texas — that took the lives of 19 elementary students and two teachers.

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Between the time I began kindergarten in 2008 and my high school graduation in 2020, a total of 257 school shootings occurred in the United States. Two mass shootings occurred near my home, the 2016 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, my hometown, and the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

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I’m in college now, studying public and international affairs at Princeton University, but I’ve stopped reading the news as often as I used to. It’s always the same thing: an existing issue reveals itself, promises of change are made, and said change is delayed and delayed until the issue once again rears its head through an unimaginable tragedy.

Meanwhile, the issue of gun violence is as transparent as it can be — 45,222 people died of gun-related injuries in the United States in 2020, more than any other year on record. On average, there is one mass shooting per day. Roughly 110 people are killed by gun violence daily in our country.

Gun violence, which the Centers for Disease Control defined as a public health crisis, has now become the top cause of death for children across the United States. And, like any other disease, it hurts the most vulnerable members of our society: women and gender minorities, LGBTQ+ people, communities of color and youth.

We need comprehensive reform that limits the circulation of assault weapons and promotes responsible gun ownership in our country. We need to raise awareness about the dangers of loose regulations that mitigates the likelihood of violence.

But if any of these changes are going to pass, we can’t ignore the structural reform that is needed within our political system. Federal gun control legislation has so far failed to pass not because a majority of senators opposed it — in 2013, 54 senators from both parties voted in favor of background checks — but because of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for a bill to become law.

Across decades and political administrations, gun violence has persisted as one of the nation’s biggest issues. But gun violence is only a symptom of another issue: political inaction. That issue might hide stealthily below the surface, but it’s one toward which we must target our frustration and rage.

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Thoughts and prayers do not bring people back from the dead. They do not erase the trauma — physical and mental — that survivors must endure for the rest of their lives. We owe it to these individuals and to our entire country to prevent these tragedies from occurring again.

Uma Menon is an 18-year-old author and Princeton University student from Winter Park, Florida. Her debut book, Hands for Language, was released by Mawenzi House in 2020 and her debut childrens’ books are forthcoming from Candlewick Press. This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.

©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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