David Santiago / Miami Herald via AP
Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023 | 2 a.m.
I was 15 years old when a shooter walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day and massacred 17 of my classmates, friends and teachers with an assault rifle, wounding 17 others in the process. I remember the shooting like it was yesterday — the sound of the gunshots, the ambulance sirens, the pure chaos.
Everything changed that day. In just a matter of minutes, our childhoods were stolen, our lives were shattered and our entire community was forever changed.
It’s hard to describe the feeling after a shooting, the thoughts that go through your mind in the instant you become a survivor. For me, there was shock, disbelief and overwhelming sadness. Those feelings quickly turned to anger. There was an entire industry and system that had allowed this unthinkable tragedy to occur. As we mourned the loss of our friends and tried to rebuild our lives, this industry continued to profit, unchecked and unregulated.
The gun industry doesn’t just passively enable our gun violence crisis, it actively profits off of it. To this day, it continues to rake in an estimated $9 billion a year while families and communities around the country suffer. Gun violence now kills more than 40,000 Americans per year, wounds twice as many, and costs our country over a half-trillion dollars.
But this week, while hundreds of Americans are shot and killed, profiteers of the gun industry won’t bat an eye. They’ll be at SHOT Show, their annual weeklong party in Las Vegas, just two miles from where the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history took place. It’s an insult — not only to the survivors and families of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, but to millions of gun violence survivors across the country.
What’s even worse is that they’ve made their fortune, in part, by targeting young people. Guns are now the No. 1 killer of kids and teens in America, and yet this industry continues to market its products to us and innovate to make them deadlier. As kids around the country die as a result of preventable gun violence, they refuse to take any responsibility for the harm they cause.
This isn’t the first time in our country’s history that a major industry has played a role in creating a public health crisis. Like gun makers, tobacco and opioid companies’ reckless business practices cost lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. But thanks to the tireless work of young activists who fought for accountability, those companies were forced to pay for the harm they caused through major financial settlements. They were also required to change their marketing practices and fund prevention and education efforts.
The reality is that every American industry has to follow rules and regulations, and the gun industry shouldn’t be an exception.
This has to change.
That’s why this year, I, along with my fellow gun safety advocates and survivors with Students Demand Action will be following in the footsteps of the young activists who took on the tobacco and opioid industries. We’ll be taking our fight for change right to the source and confronting the gun industry head-on, starting at SHOT Show this week. We won’t let them continue to profit when we’re paying for it with our lives.
This year, we’re demanding that the gun industry take commonsense steps to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by securing their supply chains and refusing to work with bad dealers, market their products responsibly and honestly, stop making AR-15s and other assault weapons that use high-capacity magazines, and innovate to make guns safer rather than more deadly.
We shouldn’t have to grow up living in fear of gun violence in our schools, our neighborhoods, our parks or anywhere else. We deserve to be safe in every single community. We deserve better, and this year, we are taking on the gun industry to demand it.
Sari Kaufman is a volunteer with Students Demand Action and a survivor of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She is currently a student at Yale University and founder of the school’s first Students Demand Action chapter.