By Catie Jacobson
Years ago, I walked out of Friday night services at my synagogue to find a swastika drawn in soap on a congregant’s car. A few months later, we found another, this one spray painted on the side of the synagogue. From then on, I entered High Holy day services to be greeted, not only by my friends and rabbi, but by an armed guard.
The meaning was never explicitly stated, but even as kids, we all knew why he was there.
As the years went on, I witnessed the Charleston, S.C. —nine Black congregants shot and killed. I read about the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, just a few hours from my home—11 congregants shot and killed. I saw my friends and teachers fear that our school might be the next Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland.
I’ve grown up as a member of, as the New York Times puts it, “the mass shooting generation.” I’ve seen too many legislators unwilling to address the senseless gun violence that takes 100 lives every day, and have learned that the places we should feel most comfortable—schools, homes, places of worship—are no longer safe.
And I’m sick of it.
It is past time in this country for reasonable, life saving, gun safety laws. This unprecedented time of unrest, uncertainty, and division is leading to deadly violence across the country. With unregistered guns in the hands of dangerous people, we cannot combat this gun violence epidemic—it’s that simple.
Background checks have, in so many cases, long been our first line of defense against gun violence—ensuring that someone with a violent past or violent proclivities cannot legally purchase a firearm.
Unfortunately, there is a glaring loophole in our Commonwealth’s background checks system: a gap that allows private sellers to peddle “long guns” without conducting background checks.
These “long guns” include military-style rifles like AR-15s that are used in many mass shootings and are disproportionately turned against law enforcement. Simply put, these weapons can cause more damage with one shot than most other, better-regulated weapons.
In other words, guns with the greatest ability to inflict harm quickly are the least regulated in our commonwealth.
Our Legislature has a clear choice: pass background checks on all gun sales (which are associated with a 10 percent decrease in homicide rates) or continue to allow city gun violence to plague the streets of Philadelphia, and firearm suicide and domestic violence to ravage rural communities like mine.
With the stress of a pandemic and so much civil unrest, allowing military-style rifles to be sold to anyone without a background check makes all of us less safe. We need universal background checks.
I may be the generation of mass shootings, but my children will not be. My children will not go to school fearing for their lives as they hide under their desks while practicing active shooter drills. My children will not see 100 Americans shot and killed every day with 230 more wounded.
My children will not live in a world where a Black male under 17 dies by gun homicide every nine hours. My children will not grow up in a Pennsylvania where gun violence costs our commonwealth $12.1 billion each year.
I’m working hard with gun violence prevention organizations like CeasefirePA to make sure our Legislature protects the safety of my friends and me.
Make my generation the last one to experience these tragic acts of gun violence. We can keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and prohibited purchasers. We can fight the public health crisis that is gun violence in America. Let’s start by passing background checks on all gun sales.
Catie Jacobson is a 17-year-old high school junior in Lewisburg, PA. She has been working with gun violence prevention groups such as Ceasefire PA since 2019.