Dear Mr. Congressman,
My name is Sid, and I’m a Senior at Somerset VoTech. I’m typing out this letter to you on my phone, in the middle of a packed crowd at the Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ.
This is the first rally I’ve ever been to in my life, because I’m a cynic, Mr. Congressman. I’ve never held the hope that a protest could shake this country onto the right path, or that a clever sign could be the mirror that sparks real reflection on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Congressman, I write to you today that I will be the last of the cynics. There is no more room in our democracy for the tired deflections of the past. I recognize that there are nuances to the issue of gun violence in America, but there is one divide that will forever and always be black-and-white: Mr. Congressman, we can either commit to act, or sit back and enable these horrific tragedies to continue.
My name is Sid, and I have never lived in an era without school shootings. I was born more than a year after Columbine, but I know that my children and my friends’ children will be born in an era when school shootings are specters of a distant and barbaric past, as repulsive to the American Way of Life as the institution of segregation is today.
Mr. Congressman, my name is Sid, and I’m an American. My blood is red, my courthouse is white, and my passport is blue.
My parents came to this country as “permanent aliens” so that my inalienable rights would be permanent. Among them, both the rights to free speech and the right to bear arms. When the framers of our country’s founding documents enshrined those rights in our constitution, they were able to shout from the steps of their courthouses. They were not able to walk into a Walmart and purchase a weapon of war that could fire dozens of lethal rounds per minute.
Mr. Congressman, the very people who wrote those documents also enshrined the recognition that all Americans have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—And when the modern interpretation of the second amendment conflicts with my right to life and liberty I think I know which one is more important, Mr. Congressman.
My name is Sid, and I am a student in a country whose education system is ranked 38th in Math, ranked 24th in Science, and ranked 1st in school-related gun violence.
Mr. Congressman, your colleagues have been desperate, desperate to discredit the young people speaking up about gun violence in our country. They tell us we don’t know what an assault rifle is, or a bump stock, or a high-capacity magazine. They tell us we don’t understand the issue enough to hold a valid opinion on the matter.
Mr. Congressman, you cannot test us on a subject after burning all the textbooks. No one, no one in this country will truly understand this issue until you and your colleagues wholeheartedly, unequivocally, support scientific research into gun violence.
Your colleagues are seriously considering paying teachers to wield deadly weapons. Mr. Congressman, they barely pay our teachers to teach!
Mr. Congressman, I know that you’re tired of hearing about how Australia had zero mass shootings after instituting gun control, and that the U.K., Japan, Germany, and Canada have experienced similar success. The two of us know that our country isn’t Japan or any of those others. The political climate in those countries, the legislative precedent in those countries, is as different to ours as sushi is to a Big Mac.
But Mr. Congressman, we must remember that this is America--not the first country to go into space, but the first to step foot on the moon. JFK said we as Americans “do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Mr. Congressman, America will not be the first country to institute gun reform within its borders, but it will be the country where the fight will be the most hard fought and the most rewarding.
Mr. Congressman, I understand that the War on Drugs is a complicated issue. So is the War on Terror. But, why, in this country of freedom, are we so motivated to pursue a War on Children?
Mr. Congressman, if Nicholas Cruz was a perfectly law-abiding gun owner until he stepped foot into that school, then those laws must change!
Mr. Congressman, your colleagues often reference President Reagan as a paragon of American leadership. He presided over the end of the Cold War, and era when the fear of—as he put it—the “Soviet Empire of Evil” drove students under desks in atomic bomb drills. When today’s children hide in closets and behind desks from our fellow countrymen armed with assault rifles, ask yourself, what is the Empire of Evil that we fear this time?
Your colleagues and base of supporters often proclaim that if the we want common-sense gun reform, we will have to tear the guns from their cold, dead hands. Mr Congressman, if you want this ballot, you’re gonna need to tear it from MY cold, dead hands.
Mr. Congressman, don’t worry if you didn’t catch all of that, because I’m gonna say it again on Election Day, November 6th, 2018, and November 3, 2020, and November 8, 2022, and November of 2024 and 2026 and 2028 and every second November that I am still alive.
Mr. Congressman, take the Parkland Pledge."
- Sid Shankar
Author Bio: Sid Shankar, Senior at Somerset Vo-Tech, organizer of the Parkland Pledge