On Sunday, while many of us slept, a gunman opened fired on a bus in a University of Virginia parking lot and killed three students: D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr. Two others were injured. Students across the campus sheltered in place for almost 12 hours while an intensive manhunt ensued and finally ended when the suspect was taken into custody without incident. The incident marks the 598th mass shooting this year and the second school shooting in Virginia in 2022.
Polls show that gun control was one of the five top issues for voters during last week’s midterms. It is clear that people are tired of being afraid of mass shootings and they showed it by reelecting every senator who co-sponsored the federal assault weapons ban bill.
This does not surprise me. As an anti-gun activist, I have been lobbying for a federal assault weapons ban ever since my 6-year-old son and I survived a mass shooting earlier this year after a man opened fire with an AR-15 at our hometown’s Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven people and injuring over 40.
On a brisk but sunny Wednesday afternoon in September, I sat in a meeting surrounded by a small group of gun violence victims, survivors and activists. We were gathered in a circle of seats in the personal office of GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
He was seated right in front of me with only two feet of hot air between us and nothing else.
We went around the room introducing ourselves, and the senator was cordial. His face was appropriately sympathetic. He looked each of us in the eye as we spoke. He nodded along somberly as I told him about running with my 6-year-old son from a mass shooter.
After the introductions concluded, we asked for the senator’s support for a federal assault weapons ban.
Kim and Felix Rubio, the parents of Lexi, who was murdered at Robb Elementary School in May, had traveled all the way from Uvalde, Texas. Felix showed the senator a photo of their 10-year-old daughter in her casket. The senator looked at it stoically and then he looked at the pained faces of the Rubios as he told them that his solution to school shootings was to put more police officers in schools.
The energy in the room shifted suddenly. It was palpable. Some members of our group gasped. Others started crying. Sandy Phillips, the mother of Jesse Phillips, who was gunned down in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, walked out of the room in disgust. Shock and disbelief hung heavy in the air over each of us as someone blurted out that 376 law enforcement officers stood by and did nothing to save the 19 children and two teachers who were brutally slaughtered in Uvalde.
They did nothing to save Lexi.
On Oct. 24, almost six weeks to the day of that meeting, a school shooting in St. Louis became the 40th school shooting this year.
As details emerged, it was reported that the shooter had a dozen 30-round magazines with him and he used an AR-15-style rifle. Just like the shooter in Uvalde. Just like in Highland Park. The school had metal detectors, the doors were locked and there were security guards.
It didn’t matter.
Even the police couldn’t prevent this school shooting ― the family of the shooter had asked police to seize the weapon that would later be used to kill 16-year-old Alexzandria Bell and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka. Police confiscated the weapon but “determined at that time the suspect was lawfully permitted to possess the firearm.” The AR-15-style assault weapon was returned to a third party known to the family. It is not known how the shooter regained possession of the firearm.
Ted Cruz was silent on Twitter. But gun violence prevention advocates weren’t. Because we know that police and security guards and locked doors don’t prevent school shootings. Even schools with their own police force like the University of Virginia can’t prevent mass shootings.
While we don’t know what kind of gun was used in the Virginia shooting, we do know the only thing that will prevent the majority of mass shootings and school shootings is banning assault weapons. Data proves it. During the assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, the likelihood of being killed in a mass shooting decreased by 70%.
The easy access to weapons of war is what is killing our children. Right now, an 18-year-old who is not old enough to buy alcohol or a handgun can legally buy an assault weapon. Assault weapons were designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. The shooting my son and I survived involved an AR-15. In less than 50 seconds, the shooter in Highland Park shot almost 100 rounds into a crowd of families. He stopped to reload twice. In Uvalde, some parents had to use DNA to identify their children because bullets from an assault weapon are powerful enough to liquefy a person’s organs.
These are weapons of war and they are being used again and again to murder our children in the one place they should feel safe ― at school. And that isn’t the worst of it. A Washington Post database on school shootings reports the number of children exposed to gun violence in schools since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School is 320,000.
What are we doing?
A federal assault weapons ban would have prevented the massacre in Uvalde and it would have prevented the killing of a 16-year-old girl and her teacher in St. Louis. Please don’t wait until your family is touched by gun violence to get involved. Help pass a federal assault weapons ban by calling your senators today via the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask them to support the ban and then vote to elect gun-sense candidates.
Sadly, I believe it’s not a matter of whether your life will be touched by gun violence but when. The clock is ticking ― don’t let it run out on your family.
A representative for Cruz emailed the following statement to HuffPost in regard to the senator’s response: “Sen. Cruz was in Uvalde mourning with the community the day after the shooting and later met with loved ones of the victims. Following this tragedy, Senator Cruz introduced legislation and fought to enact reforms that would double the number of school resource officers, hire 15,000 school-based mental health professionals to ensure there is early intervention to identify and help at-risk kids, provide significant resources for enhanced school safety, and to improve the gun background system and prosecute persons who try to illegally buy guns. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats blocked it with no explanation whatsoever.”
Ashbey Beasley is a proud Indigenous wife and mother, a serial entrepreneur and a mass shooting survivor turned activist.