Written by: Genevieve Grant
During the height of the national conversation surrounding Standing Rock and Indigenous rights, the most politically engaged students at my high school were invited to sit down with our congressional representative, Derek Kilmer (D- WA 6th). This conversation was largely about current events and what government can do to intervene on behalf of disadvantaged communities when they are threatened. We were able to have a meaningful conversation, focused on the problems facing Native and Indigenous communities in Washington state -- and around the country -- as this was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Fast forward to today, after countless school shootings and a growing vocal critique of legislators’ inaction to prevent gun violence, concrete steps to stop gun deaths is at the forefront of my mind, and the minds of millions of other students and young activists. Part of me regretted not bringing up the issue of gun violence with Rep. Kilmer when I had the chance. Just two years prior to my meeting, a freshman fatally shot four classmates in Marysville, an hour and a half from my home, and from the high school where my mom works as a teacher. Recognizing that gun violence could be a real issue in our community has put the prevention of gun violence higher on our list of priorities.
It didn’t occur to me then that our representatives and senators are there to serve us - their constituency, and especially their young constituency. But it did occur to me when I learned that Representative Kilmer, someone who I voted for in my first election, hadn’t yet put his name on a bill of importance to the gun violence prevention movement. By not cosponsoring it, he would be receiving an “incomplete” grade on the Team ENOUGH Report cards, issued to every member of Congress detailing whether or not they supported gun violence prevention legislation in 2018. To me, an “incomplete” wasn’t good enough, because it didn’t reflect my views or the views of my district.
The bill he had yet to cosponsor was the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act of 2017 (HR 2598). These laws give family members of an individual who they fear is a danger to themselves or others, the right to raise the concern before a judge and request that any firearms be temporarily removed to avert a potentially tragic situation. Many murders are preventable. Many suicides are preventable. Many shooting sprees are preventable.
Gun violence can be prevented. And laws like HR 2598 are a step toward that prevention. In fact, this bill echoes laws that already exist in many states, including Washington. I wanted to have a representative who had earned a favorable grade by showing his support through action, and not just words.
This is what I told Rep. Kilmer’s office when I went in to speak with his staff. The Legislative Counsel that dealt with gun issues agreed to sit down with me (without a prearranged meeting), and listened while I layed out my reasoning for wanting Kilmer’s name on the bill as a cosponsor.
So many pieces of legislation run through the hands of our leaders, and so many of them are colored by hopelessness. Common sense gun laws are popular with voters, but they aren’t popular with the leadership that decides which bills get voted on. On paper, a cosponsor is just a cosponsor, not a voter. But for activists, co-sponsorship can be a sign of hope and movement toward enacting real policy, even when it feels like we’re in gridlock. Basically, it’s a way that gun violence champions can show their stripes since the opportunity to vote on a gun violence prevention bill hasn’t happened in far too long.
That’s why I went in to speak to the representative’s office, and it’s also why Team ENOUGH works so hard to drive this point home: in times when gun violence prevention policies feel unpopular,, every action that can be taken is important.
Two days after I went in for the meeting, I received an email from the legislative aide I met, thanking me for meeting with them, and telling me that Rep. Kilmer was now a cosponsor on HR 2598. Thanks to my efforts, he now has a passing grade on Team ENOUGH’s report cards. He also passed the test to receive my vote again in the upcoming midterm election.
- Your calls matter to your representatives.
- Your opinion matters to your representatives.
- Above all, your support matters to your representatives.
It’s up to you to make sure they know what they have to do to earn your vote. Team Enough shows that there is strength in numbers and that report card scores issued by young activists have the power to make our elected officials take notice.