It’s hard to describe the sound, which is surprisingly faint, and the feel of automatic gunfire coming at you. The bullets are moving so quickly it feels like each round sucks the oxygen out of the nearby air as it passes. By the time I had completed two combat deployments in Iraq, I had grown somewhat accustomed to this harrowing and very unnatural situation.
So when I first heard the audio captured by an eyewitness to the mass shooting attack in Las Vegas last October, I assumed it was footage from a war zone. It took me several minutes to wrap my head around the fact that this was happening on U.S. soil. That hundreds of rounds, fired at high velocity from military-style weapons designed to kill human beings en masse, were raining down on innocent Americans who had gathered to enjoy a country music concert.
The day I graduated from West Point, I took an oath to protect our Constitution and the Second Amendment. My fellow soldiers and I have risked our lives to protect these rights. But with all rights come responsibilities.
Our home should not feel like a war zone. We cannot let this continue.
Over the course of my campaign, and especially over the last few weeks, I’ve talked to far too many parents who describe a similar, sick feeling in the pit of their stomach as they drop their children off at school. I keep thinking of my mom’s first grade class.
When I was overseas, the care packages they sent — filled with homemade cookies, scribbled messages in crayon, and hand-drawn stick figures — got me through some of the toughest times of my deployment.
Now those same kids, and millions like them at schools across the U.S., practice active shooter drills on a regular basis. I can hear the emotion in my mom’s voice when she talks about running those drills with her students. As a teacher, she never imagined she’d have to practice hiding her kids in her classroom closet with the lights turned out.
My mom’s generation grew up doing nuclear fallout drills. Now her students practice how to ‘duck and cover’ from automatic weapons. They are the mass shooting generation.
As a West Point cadet and Army officer, I was trained in the effective and safe use of firearms. We were taught about the responsibility that comes with carrying a gun. During my time in Iraq, I carried a high-powered assault rifle that’s nearly identical to the AR-15 — the weapon used last month to gun down 17 students and educators in Parkland. Just like its military counterpart, the AR-15 is designed to fire a high volume of rounds at very high velocity for the purpose of inflicting as much damage to the human body as possible.
This same weapon that I carried in combat has been used in 11 mass shootings in the past decade to gun down Americans on our own soil, many of them young children and teenagers. These weapons of war have no place in our schools, at our concerts, in our movie theaters or on our streets.
The U.S. has a gun violence epidemic. We’ve already had 17 school shootings this year, averaging one every week.
At least three schools in our area reported threats of gun violence in the week following the Parkland shooting. Since the Sandy Hook attack, more kids have been victims to gun violence than the number of US troops killed since 9/11. Every time I see another school shooting in the news, I immediately picture my mom shielding her first graders — hiding them in closets, locking her classroom doors.
Americans are done with politicians who cower to the gun lobby instead of looking out for our kids. They use scare tactics to say that advocates for gun violence prevention are seeking to take away handguns and hunting rifles. But we’re not. We’re rightfully demanding that leaders have the moral courage to stand up, speak out, and fight to keep us safe.
I’m facing our gun violence epidemic head-on by insisting on a comprehensive approach. We have to get weapons of war out of our communities by banning assault weapons. We must also institute universal background checks, ban bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, prevent straw purchases, close gun-show loopholes and institute no-buy lists for domestic abusers and suspected terrorists. We also have to empower the CDC to study gun violence by repealing the Dickey Amendment.
I know that our community, where I was born and raised and where my family has been for five generations, is ready for change. I grew up around responsible gun owners. When I look around our district, I don’t see folks divided along partisan lines. I see the friends I went to school with, my parents’ colleagues, my public school teachers and track coaches. And I know that none of us want our home to feel like a war zone.
Demonstrations, like the school walkouts on March 14 and the nationwide marches last Saturday, give us the opportunity to speak to responsible gun owners and progressive activists alike. I’m confident we can come together to finally make progress on this issue. I’m proud to stand with students, educators and families. Enough is enough. This mass shooting generation ends now.
Pat Ryan is seeking the Democratic nomination for the Congressional seat in New York’s 19th District.