By Peter Trombley
After weeks of planning and fundraising, 43 members of the CVU community – 38 students and five chaperones – boarded a bus to Washington, D.C. last Friday night. Our mission was to send a message to Congress and the president that we would no longer tolerate government inaction in the face of gun violence.
We left at midnight, drove nine hours to outside the Capitol, and then took the train into the heart of the city. We arrived around 10:30 a.m. And although the march wasn’t slated to happen for an hour and a half, Pennsylvania Avenue and the streets surrounding it were already packed.
Students, teachers, parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens marched together. We were not defined by any generation, any age, or class. We did not come from any single walk of life; our origins were not what united us. What united us was a desire for change, and an aim to march to the Capitol dome in the distance. We fought our way through the crowds, inching closer to the stage, as if every step we took brought us closer to change, closer to the heart of this movement.
As 12:00 drew nearer, more people filed onto the streets, and shoulder-to-shoulder we waited. There was an energy in the air that day, shared amongst the crowd, and broadcast on the jumbotrons showing marches around the nation. It was the ineffable sensation of hope. I went to D.C. expecting a rally about making schools safer. What I got was a much broader range of speeches.
Instead of limiting the speaker list to Parkland, Fla., students, or other victims of school shootings, the speakers were a variety of young people who had been affected by gun violence in a multitude of ways. There were students from Parkland who had so recently been the victims of violence, and the siblings of elementary school children murdered in Newtown, Conn. as well as young people living in communities in Chicago, South Central L.A., Baltimore, and D.C. who have lost loved ones due to gun violence. Everyone spoke to the need for a change in our society.
We need to invest in poor communities, so that people see a chance for a better life and are deterred from crime. We need to invest in mental health, so that nobody gets to a place where they have the desire to commit mass shootings. But above all, we need to address the ease of access to firearms in our society.
These are not solutions that I am proposing, these are the solutions called for by people who have faced the barrel of a gun, or have looked at the body of loved ones lying in a casket, knowing that a bullet put them there. The march culminated in a speech by Emma González, a Parkland student. She listed off the names of the 17 victims at Parkland, speaking to all the things they will never do again. Leaving us all with a deeper understanding of the immeasurable loss that these students felt, and the unknowable pains of death.
As I listened to these speeches, I couldn’t help but think about my own family. I tried to put myself in their shoes, to think about what it would mean to know that I would never talk to my sisters again, to never hold them in my arms. The reality of their pain brought me to tears as I stood, staring at the Capitol dome.
When the speeches were over, we walked back to train station with aching muscles and heavy hearts. As I boarded the train, my mind inevitably went to what can be done to stop the violence in this country.
I thought about poverty, its cyclical nature, and how difficult it is to escape.
I thought about mental health, and how much work we have to do to overhaul our system of treatment.
I thought about how divided the issue of gun control is, how divided our nation is.
I thought about how our party system — and primary elections, where more radical party members vote — force politicians to radical extremes, dividing otherwise unifying issues.
All this seems insurmountable, but we don’t have to solve all of these problems today. We can do much simpler things to address the issue of gun violence. We can ban bump stocks, and high capacity magazines that make already lethal weapons even more deadly. We can make sure that those cited or arrested for domestic violence have weapons removed from their possession so that everyone else in their household remains safe.
And we can use universal background checks to ensure that dangerous people can’t buy dangerous weapons. We don’t have to live in fear, and we can’t afford to carry on like this. If we, as a society, decide to accept some restrictions on our right to bear arms, we can take one major step towards creating a safer country.
Shelburne resident Peter Trombley is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School.