There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the U.S. over the last three decades, making gun violence one of our only cultural constants. These bloody years have been formative ones for millennials, who grew up bombarded with images of violence, including the events of 9/11 — a day widely considered the defining moment of our generation.
After the Washington D.C. Navy Yard shooting last week, the issue of gun-control is back on the minds of Americans. Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation that requires background checks or other measures to ensure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands. It looks like this is shaping up to be a debate defined, at least in part, generationally: after decades defined by violence, two recent polls from Quinnipiac University and Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) show that a majority of millennials support reform.
The Quinnipiac poll found that 50 percent of people 18-29 disapprove of how President Obama is handling gun policy, compared to the 41 percent of millennials who do approve of the job he’s doing on the issue.
When asked whether gun control laws should be more strict, less strict, or remain the same, The Harvard poll found that 49 percent of millennials favor stricter laws. These numbers are clear: millennials are frustrated with the lack of bipartisan efforts in Congress to allow the president to push through reform laws.
But while it is clear that millennials support change on this issue, the real question is: why?
I spoke with two young people who work at the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a national student initiative that engages youth in progressive activism, to get their perspectives.
Erik Lampmann, Equal Justice Senior Fellow
PolicyMic: Why do you think the millennial generation seems to be more sensitive to gun control reform?
Erik Lampmann: As millennials, we have been living in a country that has constantly been at war for much of our childhoods, so violence has always been visible to us in the media. While older generations have defined violence differently, millennials understand violence through the lens of shootings. More recently, we’ve seen “Stop and Frisk” policies and “Stand Your Ground” laws in the news which have both had cases connected to young people.
PolicyMic: Why do you think millennials believe in gun reform laws?
Lampmann: We’re not naive enough to believe that new laws will solve all of our gun problems like older people may think we are. We understand that you cannot totally prevent gun violence even with the most comprehensive laws. But these gun reform policies are working where they have been implemented, in terms of curtailing the number of gun-related deaths. Reforming gun laws can at least put us on a path in the right direction.
PolicyMic: Why are a majority of millennials supporting gun control reform?
Lampmann: It’s easier to be pro-reform than against at this point for millennials. They have more examples of young people being killed by guns in mass shootings than older people may have, so they have more of a reason to support change because it’s hitting closer to home. But saying that you support gun control is only the first step;it’s better than doing nothing, but you have to engage with your community and elected officials if you want your support to actually go anywhere.
Lydia Bowers, Operations Strategist
PolicyMic: Why do you think a majority of millennials support gun control reform?
Lydia Bowers: We have a pretty big stake in this debate because of all of the young people that have been killed by gun violence, yet not many people of millennial age are in this debate. Why is this? This generation has so much diversity that young people might feel that it’s difficult for them to make a statement or speak on behalf of the entire generation.
PolicyMic: What do you think makes millennials believe that gun control reform will work?
Bowers: With all of the gun-related deaths that have involved young people, millennials feel like they have nowhere to go but up when it comes to supporting change. Killing 20 innocent elementary school children and six staff members is a living nightmare, and young people feel that they cannot let more of the unthinkable happen. But we need to remember that it is so critical to have an open dialogue not only with your politicians, but also with your friends and neighbors — especially with young men who are more desensitized to violence.
PolicyMic: What is your message to millennials who are against gun control reform?
Bowers: No one is happy with the status quo, regardless of what side you are on. Nobody wants to see innocent children and men and women senselessly die from gun violence. The anti-gun side just has a different philosophy for how they perceive the Constitution, but none of us enjoy seeing innocent people lose their lives. I think this is important to remember going forward, and to realize that the objective is to keep people from dying from senseless violence rather than trying to away people’s rights.