The events in Colorado recently, and in Georgia last week, were horrific. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and to entire communities that are now more acutely aware of the toll that gun violence can take on a town. But I am also grateful. Parsippany is the type of town, much like Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, that would be shaken to its core if we were to experience a high-profile mass shooting like the one that occurred in Boulder. My children don’t fear being shot as they walk to school every day. Generally, my friends and neighbors here have not witnessed gun violence first-hand, which, shockingly, puts them in the minority. It is an exceedingly safe place to live, which is part of why I chose to raise a family here. I am privileged enough to have that choice. Millions of Americans are not.
2020 and 2021 have been incredibly difficult. We’ve all been preoccupied with staying safe from COVID19 while trying to stay afloat financially. We’ve struggled to keep our children entertained and active, and forgone many of the simple pleasures in life to which we had become accustomed. It was easy to be lulled into an almost tunnel vision perception that gun violence is no longer a problem because people are staying home more. Did you forget that gun violence still exists? You’re not alone. With many children out of school due to the pandemic, I heard from parents near and far that there was a sense of relief in knowing that their children wouldn’t be subject to fear-inducing lockdown drills, or worse, the trauma of an actual school shooting. And while school shootings have largely fallen out of view, gun violence in America has mostly stayed the same, and even increased in some places, throughout the pandemic.
Just 20 miles away, in Newark for example, there were at least 16 shootings from July 16, 2020, to July 30, 2020, alone. Gun violence generally increases in the summer months, and 2020 was no exception. Every act of gun violence is a tragedy. Every shooting, whether you see it on the evening news or not, rips through the fabric of families and communities in irreparable ways. It is not enough to only care about gun violence when a community that looks like yours scrolls across your newsfeed or pops up on your morning news show as you get ready for your day. We must all understand the reality of gun violence in America and call upon our elected leaders to enact meaningful change that will undercut the epidemic that has afflicted us all since long before COVID19 took hold.
There are currently two bills before the US Senate that would close gaping loopholes in the background check system (HR 8 and HR 1446). Contacting Senators Menendez and Booker and urging them to support these bills is a good place to start. Then contact your state and local representatives and ask them what they are doing to keep New Jersey safer from gun violence. Background checks on all gun sales are just the tip of the iceberg. In order for the US to truly tackle its gun violence problem, we need to support local programs to reduce gun violence, like the Newark Community Street Team, a community-based violence reduction program that trains and deploys outreach workers and high-risk interventionists throughout the city. Local intervention programs, like the NCST, are among the most effective ways to reduce gun violence in communities. Without funding and other resources, they can’t do their work. When you speak to Senators Menendez and Booker, ask them what they’re doing to ensure that the NCST remains adequately funded. And find out more about what intervention programs are working in or near your community, and urge your lawmakers to fund them. Right here in Parsippany, we can support programs like the Juvenile Accountability Leadership Program, which operates out of the Parsippany PAL building and provides at-risk youth with constructive ways to engage with their community.
Gun violence is a system and intersectional issue that has deep roots and immeasurable impacts on communities throughout the US. It is incumbent upon all of us to help make sure that everyone, everywhere can live safely, without the fear of being shot while going about their daily lives. Yesterday’s shooting in Colorado is a painful reminder of what is at stake. Mayor Soriano, Judy Hernandez, and I are all acutely aware of and thankful for what a safe town Parsippany is. We are fortunate enough to live in a state with strong gun safety laws, and in a town that takes enforcement of them very seriously. We are committed to working together with each other and with law enforcement to make sure that it stays that way.
Cori Herbig is the former Director of State Government Affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety. She is also a candidate for Parsippany Town Council.