This is a personal reflection by Rachel Canter in response to the tragedy in Uvalde. It reflects her thoughts and feelings alone. It was originally published in an email.

There are no sacred spaces left in America.

This is the thought I keep coming back to after the Uvalde, Texas, massacre of children and their teachers in their classrooms. Just ten days prior, other ordinary Americans—grandmothers and grandfathers, community leaders, friends—were gunned down while going grocery shopping, just because they were Black. Churchgoers, too, in Laguna Woods, California, were murdered in yet another incident a day after Buffalo, apparently for being of Taiwanese heritage.

We are not safe in our schools, in our grocery storesin our churches, in our synagogues, in our temples, in our malls, in our movie theaters, in our Walmarts, in our baseball parks, in our entertainment venues, in our workplaces, in our own homes.

We are not safe anywhere.

After Sandy Hook, and again after Parkland, I wondered—will our leaders finally do something about this problem? About the fact that the United States—a country that our founders thought would be a beacon of hope for human flourishing—is the only democratic country in the world where gun violence is a leading cause of death, including for children?

But no. That is not what happened. Instead, we have decided that inconveniencing adults is too high a price to pay. Asking adults to submit to universal background checks, safety training, carry permits, safe storage laws, and red flag laws is more than we can bear. Our actions speak so, so clearly: unalloyed gun rights are more valuable than the life of a child—no, the life of many, many, many children.

Do I believe mental health is important? Absolutely. Do I think we should do more to fund access to mental health services? Unequivocally. Do I believe anyone who says mental health is the real problem will actually do something about it? No, I do not. America has had many years to prove me wrong. The Pearl High School shooting happened when I was still a student at Starkville High School. That was 1997. It is now 2022, and I have a child who is the same age as children who go to Robb Elementary School where this week’s murders took place. The time to do something was always yesterday, and if not yesterday, then now. Instead, all we get is endless talk—today, tomorrow, ad infinitum—or worse, silence.

Mississippi First is not an organization that works on gun policy. We are not experts on guns. We are mothers, teachers, students, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, friends, Americans. We are people who go to grocery stores, to churches, to malls, to movie theaters, to Walmart, to baseball parks, to entertainment venues, to office buildings, to our homes. We are people who do not want to live with this constant fear, and we should not have to. My expertise may not be in gun policy, but it is in education, and I know this to be true: we are asking too much of our children, of our teachers to expect them to save themselves because we do not have the courage to do anything at all about a problem that has gone on longer than I have been an adult.

I could not do my job without, at some level, being an optimist. I believe deeply that there is always, always, always something to be done, to be tried. Human problems have human solutions. As a person who sees politics up close and personal, I know just how easy it is to get cynical. But I get up every single day and do the hard, ugly, maddening work of advocacy because I have two children who deserve better than this America we are giving them. I have also been a teacher and know teachers deserve better than to be asked to become bulletproof vests. Most importantly, I am an American, and know that Americans deserve better than indifference and inevitability—we deserve the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In times like these, the human impulse is to seek comfort, but I wonder if it would be better if we all sought rage—not the dangerous fire of destruction, but the bright fire of righteous anger. This is a national problem and will require Congress to act, and that will only happen if our elected leaders know how angry we feel about the fact that our children cannot go to school safely. So I am asking you to call your Congressman. Call them and tell them you are scared. Ask them what they have done or are willing to do to save our children. Tell them you want them to support any of the gun policies that a majority of Americans support. One voice stands alone; together, we become the answer to our prayers.

Executive Director I Founder
Mississippi First

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