On the third day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, a session called “Gun Violence in America: Uniting for a Safer Future” brought together a truly diverse panel, including a world-renowned soccer player, a grieving mother-turned-U.S. representative, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, among others.
The panel was led by Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action in 2012, the day after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut took the lives of children, educators and the school principal.
In words both thoughtful and urgent, the panelists spoke of gun violence as an epidemic—one as serious as the coronavirus; they also noted that in recent months, during the pandemic, gun sales have skyrocketed.
At this particularly challenging time, host Watts observed, “teachers are being asked to do so much, and the most we can do for them is to assure that they, and their students, are safe in school.”
Weingarten agreed, saying, “We are trying to have a safe and welcoming environment everywhere, particularly in schools.” She pointed out, however, “how quickly the Trump administration tried to turn schools into fortresses, using the term that they should be ‘safe’ because they actually wanted the gun manufacturers to provide all their hardware in schools. … But for the Trump administration, it’s not kids who are the issue. Kids are dispensable. What it was always about was the connection to the NRA.”
“Who profits from all this violence?” asked Watts. She then answered her own question: “Gun manufacturers and the retailers and lobbyists that support them, along with the cowardly politicians whose campaigns are brimming with their cash.”
Weingarten was clear in her vision for schools: “We need policies that work in a systemic way. We need to have community schools with wraparound services, not fortresses with more guns. We need to think holistically about the issues—like, why would somebody have to bring a gun into a school or into a Walmart?”
The panel agreed with that larger vision. Soccer pro Alejandro Bedoya, a midfielder with the Philadelphia Union, became an instant activist when he scored a goal during a game in Washington, D.C., and spontaneously ran to a field mic, shouting, “Congress, do something now. End gun violence. Let’s go!” He is now a spokesperson for the Everytown Athletic Council, a group formed last year by NFL, WNBA and NBA athletes to support Everytown for Gun Safety in its push to end to gun violence. “What I said into the mic that day was nonpartisan,” Bedoya noted. “There had been two mass shootings that week in our country. It was a sentiment that most Americans could agree on.”
Lucy McBath, a U.S. representative from Georgia, spoke gratefully of the organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which joined the AFT in sponsoring the convention panel event. “Everytown allowed me to find my voice in this movement after the death of my son in a racially motivated shooting by a man who wasn’t able to see the value of a young black male. He was a man empowered by his gun.” She added, “My life changed forever in the blink of an eye. I went from being a suburban mom to a woman with a mission.”
In summing up, the panel turned to the coming election. Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign, offered potent assurances that a Biden-Harris ticket, when it wins the White House, will turn the Oval Office into a powerful force against gun violence.
Weingarten agreed: “We need the policies that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and the Democratic platform committees have put together … so our schools can meet children where they really are—not with a fortress and more guns.”