OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci.
Content Warning: This article is about mass shootings.
Living in Washington, D.C. makes me feel like the world is constantly ending. There are no breaks from the national politics that dictate and destroy our lives.
Before July Fourth weekend, I honestly believed that we could leverage local level political systems to bypass ineffective and harmful federal policies. I no longer understand that to be the case.
I am from the suburbs of Chicago, from a town much too similar to Highland Park. Although I am from the Southwest suburbs, and Highland Park is Northside, the politics of my hometown, and the policies impacting it most, mirror those of Highland Park. It could very well have been my hometown in the July Fourth mass shooting.
Illinois has some of the strongest gun laws in the country. Even with these laws, the gunman was able to legally purchase multiple high-powered rifles. Highland Park, in particular, is a leader in gun safety laws and has banned AK-15s and AK-47s since 2013.
With Highland Park, local level policies were not enough.
I hate it when tragedies are used as examples, and when someone’s lived reality is exploited as a pawn for political points. I detest that I am even writing this article but I feel a need to write into the void if only to clarify to people like me that we do not need to internalize our doom spirals. I am frustrated that it took a mass shooting in a town like mine for me to be empowered to speak on gun violence. I am not a stranger to gun violence: I have friends who are survivors of mass shootings and many friends who are dead because of guns and a lack of life-saving structural support. There was a shooting at my local mall this past winter holiday. I grew up with “gun free zone” stickers on the doors of my public schools and armed cops inside the buildings. I have been trained in what to do during an active shooter threat since the time I was learning how to read.
I was at the March for Our Lives rally on June 11, 2022, when thousands of us sprinted and hit the ground in fear of an active shooter threat.
There is something distinctly American about a mass shooting during an Independence Day parade and an active shooter threat during a protest against gun violence on the National Mall.
It does not need to be like this.
We will continue to die until Congress actually passes effective gun laws. I am not hopeful that this necessary change will occur anytime soon, as long as SuperPACs exist and pro-gun organizations bankroll gun regulation opponents. For those of us who work for front-line Democrats, we are intensely aware of the line we must walk to maintain our integrity in politics and do right by our constituents while refraining from losing in midterm elections because our opponent was bankrolled by a PAC threatened by our pro-regulation policy decisions.
Sure, the bipartisan Safer Communities Act became law this past June but it is far from enough. The bill refuses to disempower the loopholes that allowed the July Fourth Highland Park shooter to legally obtain a gun. This law is better than nothing but its inadequacies are deadly.
Even if the Safer Communities Act was as comprehensive as it needs to be, laws alone are not enough. We must treat gun violence as a public health problem and practice preventative solutions that properly honor the complexity of systemically empowered interpersonal violence.
I have not celebrated the Fourth of July in years. I tend to hide in my room during the fireworks show because the sound is all too familiar. When D.C. ‘s firework show began, and I had the misfortune of being outside during it, I felt like the world was about to end. I know the difference between the sound of gunshots and fireworks. That difference doesn’t matter when you’re already terrified.