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Activist Clifton Kinnie on the Bipartisan Gun Bill: ‘It’s a start’

The US Senate has just passed the most significant gun legislation in decades and – although imperfect – it’s the foundation for more meaningful change

As a student, educator, Ferguson protester and a leader in the global gun safety reform movement, I believe that we must do everything we possibly can to protect our children and prevent any harm to future generations.

Politics is supposedly what happens when humans choose to unite and act for the greater good. Policy is supposed to translate their hopes and ideas into something more tangible. If the US is truly a republic, then these ideas are democratically debated – the two-party system has to decide what is translated into policy and legislation, which means that compromise and bipartisanship become necessary.

When it comes to gun control, my generation has done as much as possible to shift the national conversation. From St. Louis to Chicago to Parkland, young people have risen up to demand action for many years now. It has finally culminated this week in the form of a bipartisan gun deal, which passed the Senate yesterday (June 23) with overwhelming bipartisan support. 

In 2021, there were around 700 mass shootings in the US, and we’ve seen over 250 mass shootings in the US this year alone. Since 2001, Chicago has lost over 7,000 lives to gun violence, more than the number of Americans killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some Governors across the nation have decried neglected parts of their cities as war zones and have made calls for the National Guard to occupy the communities hit hardest by gun violence. Our youth are dealing with PTSD and mental health challenges at unprecedented rates, probably because this violence feels like war. Gun Violence is an epidemic – and it must be dealt with as a public health issue.

In 2014, at the age of 17, I organised mass school walkouts to protest gun violence and the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson. Since then, I have continued to advocate for gun safety legislation and for a transformed society; one that cares about the well-being and safety of our children. Throughout my efforts, I have garnered national attention and support from political leaders for my cause, including President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. 

Connecting with other leaders in the gun control movement, and advocating for passage of the gun bill at the US Capitol, has been an unforgettable experience. We aimed high: during our People’s Filibuster For Gun Safety, many of us called for universal background checks and the demilitarization of the police. Although the resulting bill does not go this far, it does include changes for background checks for people under the age of 21; a historic and unprecedented investment of $750 million in community mental health centres (something most of us have been calling for for years), and the banning of gun trafficking

Of course, many have argued that this effort is inadequate. But to argue against passing or supporting this bill because it is not perfect, and does not include everything you want, is an unhelpful stance to take – particularly in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. We can’t wait, and we have a vision. If this bill is passed, all of our marching and efforts and the lives lost from senseless violence will not be in vain. This is the most significant gun legislation to pass congress in decades, and although imperfect, it is the foundation for more meaningful change. While we are still hours away from the official result, I wholeheartedly support this bill – and encourage the president to sign immediately.