The "Price" of Freedom
July 4th - the day Americans celebrate our country's independence. The day we watch fireworks and wave Old Glory. It's a day when our children run around with sparklers. The day we feel most patriotic. The day we wear the colors of the American flag - red, white and blue. The day we celebrate freedom. The day we throw a big party for our nation.
Freedom means different things to different people. My perspective on the meaning of freedom has changed over the past few years. For me, freedom means the ability to live free of fear, free of intimidation and free from gun violence. Freedom in America, as set out in the Declaration of Independence, is meant to be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, there is a vocal minority who believe these fundamental rights are pre-empted by the right to unrestricted access to deadly weapons.
Gun extremists have corrupted and dishonored the true meaning of freedom. Their idea of freedom is the unfettered ability to have any gun, anywhere, without any regulation. Something as simple and widely supported as a background check is deemed "a burden" and infringes on their absolutist rights. Gun extremists go as far as to try and convince us that owning a gun is a "God-given right." Extremists insist on being able to open carry, conceal carry, and of course hoard an unlimited number of guns and ammunition in their homes.
I know far too well the price of freedom, because my sister, Mary Sherlach, was one of the 30,000 Americans who are killed every year at the hands of a gun. My sister was the school psychologist at Sandy Hook School. She was living her life of freedom. She had a right to that life. She had a right to grow old in the pursuit of her own happiness. But a disturbed man who never should have had easy access to firearms and an arsenal of bullets took that right away from her. Those bullets took my sister's freedom. Those bullets took my sister Mary's life.
Almost daily we read and hear about others lives taken by gun violence. Americans going about their lives in their homes, schools, malls, offices, hospitals, campuses, theaters, parks, and churches. On average, 91 Americans trying to live their lives are shot and killed every day, and hundreds more are injured. And the latest - on June 12th, at a nightclub in Orlando, our country experienced the deadliest mass shooting in our country's modern history, leaving 49 dead and more than 50 others injured. That night, members of the LGBTQ community went to out to celebrate their freedom, only to have their lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness taken away in mere moments by a hate-filled terrorist with a gun.
In further affronts to our freedom this week, a majority of U.S. Senators voted against closing loopholes that make it far too easy for dangerous people - including suspected terrorists - to buy guns in this country. And the Republican leadership in the U.S. House refused to acknowledge the public outcry led by House Democrats to even hold a vote on
common-sense gun laws. Instead of doing the job they were elected to do, they went on vacation. They have ignored the will of the people, and now we know where they stand.
When we cannot go about our daily lives free from the fear of gun violence, we are no longer a free nation. We are a nation held hostage by the NRA and extremist gun lobby. The very legislators offering thoughts and prayers every time another mass shooting occurs and then voting against the overwhelming interests of the American public are those same ones lining their pockets with contributions from the gun lobby. I'm sick and tired of thoughts and prayers. Their thoughts and prayers are not doing anything to save lives.
I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice my freedom to live in a nation where someone on the terror watch list can legally purchase guns. I won't sacrifice my freedom so that felons, convicted domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and those convicted of hate crimes can legally possess firearms. I won't sacrifice my freedom so that someone doesn't have to bear "the burden" of a 90-second background check to ensure we are doing all we can to keep guns out of dangerous hands.
The historic events--the filibuster in Senate and the sit-in in the House-- reflect the outrage and urgency that Americans are feeling around the country: it is high time our government take action and do everything in its power to help reduce gun violence in America and save lives. And the inspiring leadership by members of both Chambers shows that our voices and our calls to action are being heard.
This July 4th, I will honor all victims and survivors of gun violence by wearing my orange flag pin. Orange, the color of gun violence prevention, coupled with the American flag, is a badge I can wear proudly. Because only in a nation, free from gun violence, will we be truly free.
Jane Dougherty is the sister of Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting on December 14, 2012. Mary, along with Principal Dawn Hochsprung was killed when the two women rushed at the shooter in an attempt to save their school. Jane has become a leading gun violence prevention advocate in Colorado and nationally. She is a member of Everytown for Gun Safety and a Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network.