We Are in This Together

Iwish I was writing to you under better circumstances.

I’m a dad of four who gets his kids up in the morning, makes them breakfast, drops them off at school, picks them up, and basically runs around like a full-time Lyft driver taking them to their various activities. I wave goodbye to my kids so many times, every day, not thinking anything of it.

And that was one of the first things that came into my head when I heard about last week’s shooting in Parkland, Florida. I just couldn’t help but think about it like a dad. I couldn’t help but think about all of those parents, just like me, who had waved goodbye to their kids that morning as they dropped them off for school — not thinking anything of it.

Not thinking even for a second that they’d never see their kids again.

Living through yet another mass shooting, and losing those 17 people … it left me heartbroken. Heartbroken for those who lost their lives. Heartbroken for their families that have to pick up the pieces. Heartbroken for the victims who came before them. And heartbroken at the realization that, if things don’t change, there will be an endless stream of tragedy to follow.

I’m angry.

Innocent people are dying senselessly in a country that has so much to offer the world. Parents are losing their kids … kids are losing their parents … people are waking up one morning, expecting a normal day — and then never seeing another.

Here are the facts on gun violence in America.

  • A mass shooting happens ONCE A DAY on average

Many of us consider this to be the best country on earth. And yet Americans are 25 times more likely to die in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries. Not two times, not five times, not even 10 times — 25 TIMES.

This is us. Our citizens, friends, families and loved ones.

Can we agree that this has to change?

Matt McClain/The Washington Post

Even though I personally believe we should try to take as many guns out of our society as possible, that is a separate discussion. Right now — can we at least agree on a couple of changes that could save lives immediately?

First, we need to enforce and expand background checks for people trying to purchase a gun. We also need to require them to supply proof of proper storage, which they do in other countries with great success.

Second, we need to more strictly regulate semiautomatic weapons, like the AR-15, which are so often used in mass shootings. These weapons make it easy for someone to kill many, many people in a matter of seconds. And seriously — what’s the counterargument here? I’m just not sure what weapons like the AR-15 offer everyday society. But we do know the harm they cause: Without these weapons, deranged individuals such as the killer in Las Vegas wouldn’t have been able to murder and injure so many victims in such a short amount of time. Lives would have been saved. Those people would be here with us now, going to work or school, or packing their kids a lunch.

Other developed countries have successfully limited access to guns — and the numbers prove it. Australia’s firearm homicide rate dropped by about 42% in the seven years after it passed the National Firearms Agreement in 1996. I hear gun advocates say, “Yeah right, like we’re gonna get 300 million guns off the street.” Maybe we will, maybe we won’t … but it can only help to try. I wouldn’t put anything past America — it’s accomplished some pretty incredible things over the years.

Many Americans want the right to bear arms to protect themselves or their families. I can understand this way of thinking, even if it’s not familiar to me. But the truth is that for every one time a gun is used in the home out of self-defense, there are four accidents involving guns in the home; eleven suicide attempts; and seven assaults or murders. You may say this doesn’t apply to you — that your weapon is safe and secure — but sadly this is not the case for many Americans. Homes with guns have 22 negative outcomes for each time a gun is actually used — not necessarily with success — in self defense.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the Constitution here, because the Constitution has been refined and changed continually since its creation, to adapt to evolving times. So why has the idea that the Constitution is unchangeable been allowed to persist on the gun issue alone? Just think about the types of weapons that the Constitution was talking about — they weren’t AR-15s. They were muskets.

I’ll also skim over the argument, “Bad people will find guns no matter what laws you pass.” That makes no sense to me. There are plenty of bad people in the rest of the world — just like there are plenty of bad people in the U.S. America makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but we account for 31% of global mass shooters. To put this as simply as possible: It’s about the guns.

Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune

My point here is not to drive us apart. It’s to ask you, How can we come together on this issue? Can we agree that there’s too much death, too much violence, too much loss? Can we come together and meet in the middle, as soon as possible, to save as many lives as possible? I know we can find some common ground — and I know that that’s where we’ll have to meet if we want to leave this continuous cycle of violence and death in the past.

Which leads me to the good part. The powerful stuff.

The young people.

High school students decided that they’d had enough. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where the Parkland shooting happened, decided that there’s been enough silence, enough violence and enough death. They decided that the future belongs to them. And while they may not know exactly how their future will turn out … they’ve experienced enough to know how they don’t want it to turn out.

We need to support them now.

But we also have to move fast. There are a number of ways to get active. We need to contact our representatives. We need to volunteer. We need to do our research, and know our history. We need to support groups that aim to reduce gun violence. We need to talk to our neighbors — especially if we disagree with them on this issue. We need to speak to each other with respect, and listen to each other with care. We need to organize. We need to get political. We need to VOTE.

We have to solve this crisis now.

So with that in mind, here are three things we can all do right now. Not a month from now. Not a year from now. Right now. I’m calling on everyone — especially my fellow athletes — to do these three things. Will you join me?

1) Write or call a member of Congress. You can find out who your representatives are here. Tell them how you feel. We need to send the message to Congress that gun violence is as important as any issue in this country.

2) Share a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to let people know where you stand on ending gun violence in America. I’m proposing that we use the hashtag #NeverAgain, because it’s the one being used by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

#NeverAgain because ______________________________________________________________________.

3) Make plans, if you’re able, to come to Washington, D.C., on March 24 for the March for Our Lives. Think about it: In the hours and days after surviving an unimaginable tragedy, the students in Parkland found it in themselves to start a movement. And they haven’t just started it — they’ve lived it. They’ve been speaking out … promoting awareness … engaging in conversations … attending rallies. And now? Organizing one of their own. They’ve been as inspiring as they’ve been humbling — a ray of light against this cycle of darkness. And when they march in Washington next month, we’ve got to be there for them. It’s that simple.

Because at the end of the day, this is about all of us. This is about the country that we all live in — all of our communities, all of our schools, all of our homes.

So can we agree on one thing?

Whether you’re a gun owner or not: We are all just trying to protect our families, and we are all just trying to keep our communities safe. We have to do something.

We are in this together.