Gun control and mental health care are bi-partisan issues, and they are issues that every American needs to place at the heart of their vote. The time for debate and discussion is over, and it's time for concrete action.
Recently, a disgruntled ex-employee of a Virginia TV news channel murdered two of his former colleagues while they were live on television. In a truly macabre twist, he filmed himself while committing the murders, and then spread his snuff film all over social media — right up until he attempted suicide (he eventually died from his self-inflicted wounds).
In the wake of every shooting in recent memory, politicians and the NRA have scrambled to assume their familiar roles: Democrats call for more gun control, Republicans remind us that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," the role of mental illness is bitterly disputed by just about everyone, and the NRA staunchly defends every American's right to own a gun (any gun, no matter how deadly). Families beg for change, President Obama expresses his sadness and frustration, and social media explodes with anger on both sides of the debate. And, after a few days, or maybe even a few hours, it becomes just another shooting, and something that must be be accepted as the price we pay for our freedom. It has long since become clear that Columbine's "never again" has become today's "who's next?"
The thing about powerlessness is that it breeds apathy. As you and I sit alone in our homes, watching yet another shooting unfold online or on TV, it is easy to become trapped in our own sense of helplessness. I can't singlehandedly end gun violence and neither can you, and as the same old story plays out again and again it is easy to allow that to be the beginning and the end of our reaction.
But the thing about 2015 is that we are poised on the verge of an election year. And, whether you believe it or not, elections bring power back where it belongs — to the people. That's why billions of dollars are spent on advertising, voter ID initiatives that block "undesirable" voters from voting, and propaganda campaigns that try to convince voters that all of the candidates are pretty much the same so you might as well not bother to vote, anyway. Bull-fucking-shit. Black women pretty much elected President Obama twice — and grassroots mobilization was at the foundation of that campaign. High voter turnout swings campaigns, and it's time for us to make it clear that we are going to turn out to the polls in fucking droves in 2016, and we will only vote for a candidate who supports sweeping gun control and mental health care reform.
Contrary to what Donald Trump wants you to believe, mental illness doesn't give people easy access to the deadly weapons they use to commit mass murders.
Gun control and mental health care are bi-partisan issues, and they are issues that every American needs to place at the heart of their vote. The time for debate and discussion is over, and it's time for concrete action. We need change, and we need it now, yet not one candidate has released a comprehensive plan for how he or she plans to solve these issues. I don't want to hear more political speak or more sadness over yet another shooting. After so much time, and so many shootings, these canned responses are as repugnant as they are repetitive. I, and the American people, deserve real answers that are focused on progressive policies, not political dogma.
There is absolutely nothing in the Second Amendment that protects your unfettered and unrestricted right to own a firearm, and it's simply bad constitutional law to suggest otherwise. Even Justice Scalia, in all of his conservative glory, has long conceded that the Constitution doesn't prevent the ban of certain types of firearms, background checks, or waiting periods. I am required to be trained, tested, and licensed to drive a car, and it should be even more difficult for me to use a gun. The NRA's rabid opposition to common-sense gun restrictions has done nothing but harm our country, and "progressive" candidates like Bernie Sanders who are frequently endorsed by the NRA should be ashamed of themselves.
Furthermore, while Obamacare has greatly improved access to mental health care, many of the most needy continue to fall through the cracks. No one in this country should be struggling to receive appropriate mental health treatment, and there is no excuse for the fact that in 2015 we are still basing access to treatment on an individual's ability to pay. A single-payer health system benefits everyone, and providing comprehensive single-payer mental health care would make a strong pilot program for how it could work in other areas, too.
These are my ideas for how we can move forward, but the people we really need to hear from are our presidential candidates. No more bullshit, no more politics, and definitely no more sadness today that is forgotten tomorrow. What we need now are their ideas and their plans, and it is up to us to ensure that the person we vote for next year is the one with the most concrete and responsible plan for reducing access to guns while simultaneously increasing access to mental health care.
If we want change, it has become clear that we are going to have to make it ourselves. Settling for the status quo has gotten us a country where gun violence is becoming the norm rather than the exception. We owe it to ourselves to do better, and we can do that by holding our candidates accountable and making gun control and mental health central issues in this election. Our votes matter, so these candidates better start earning them.