As someone who attends Congressional hearings for fun, I was excited to return to the Capitol for a press conference by the Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. The Justice Programs Office supports this organization as part of our partnership with the Joyce Foundation.
After taking a seat in the classically-styled room, I looked up and immediately recognized Senator Blumenthal and Senator Feinstein standing behind the podium. There were many others I did not recognize, but one that I did stood out to me: David Hogg, a survivor of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. David was there, ready to speak, and it seemed like all eyes were on him and Aaliyah Eastmond, another survivor.
I am 23 years old. I was politically active in high school, a period of my life that I remember clearly. I had engaged in debates with my classmates on the issues of the day, successfully defending my views from a crowd of classmates and teachers who disagreed with me. So when I looked up to see David Hogg speaking authentically about gun policy, I could not help but see myself. We may have had different positions on firearms during our high school years, but he had the same passion, the same reasoned arguments, and the same altruistic drive that I had.
The press conference featured many prominent speakers, including the leaders of Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. However, it was Aaliyah’s emotional plea, her mother’s tearful concerns, and the high school librarian’s speech that captured everyone’s attention. These survivors had been through the worst experience of their lives. Having come from a middle class suburban town, they spoke about their privilege and how it contrasted with schools in the poorest areas of DC, where gun violence is a daily tragedy.
This helped me recognize my privilege. I have never been shot at. I have never had a classmate die. I have never been ridiculed in the media. But I have accepted new information, learned from it, and eaten a slice of humble pie. My stance on guns has changed since high school. The most fundamental and common sense proposals from this press conference highlight why that change occurred.
Proposals like universal background checks. One out of every five guns sold today does not pass through a background check. In many states it is harder to vote than to buy an assault rifle.
Proposals like red flag laws. When family or friends present significant evidence of danger to a judge, that judge can remove a person’s ability to own firearms. These laws have been shown to work in California, and they can work on a national scale. Despite multiple encounters with law enforcement, the shooter never lost his ability to legally own a gun.
Proposals like an assault weapons ban. As the Chief of the DC Metropolitan Police said, “These weapons were designed for the specific purpose of killing human beings in a warfare situation, and they have no business being in our communities.”
The speakers at this press conference knew that one law would not prevent all gun deaths in this country. They knew that a myriad of laws, working together, could save lives and reduce the overall number of gun deaths, which currently averages about 96 per day. The speakers wanted increased security and mental health resources, but they knew this was just part of the many changes this country needs.
My favorite speaker was David. His speech was not polished or well-paced, but his words were more authentic and direct than anyone else there. You could see it in his eyes. “It’s not a Democrat Problem. It’s not a Republican problem. It’s an American problem.” The message echoed one I had heard from him before, “You are either with us, or you are with the NRA.”
After the press conference, I mustered up the courage to shake his hand. It really was like shaking hands with myself from five years ago. Then I asked for a picture with him.
“Who are you?” he asked me. The abrupt question shattered my self-reflecting illusion. David screened everyone who took a picture with him. He made sure not to affiliate himself with anyone who supported the NRA.
I’m not with them anymore. I’m not with them anymore. I’m not with them anymore.
“I’m just Alex.”
Alexander (Alex) Gamcsik is the administrative assistant for the Justice Programs Office.