The gun debate is exhausting and divisive. How many of us are sitting across the table from someone with opposing views and making any headway? Each of us has deeply held views on guns and no amount of debate is likely to change another person’s mind.
What if we push the issue forward on a community level by centering it on the burden of responsible gun ownership? Many parents across the country have already realized the importance of adding guns to the usual play date planning discussion that typically addresses allergies, dogs and swimming pools.
Let’s take the conversation beyond the play date. Informing a new babysitter, a cleaning service, a home health aide or house guests of the absence of a firearm or that you have firearms safely secured, has an enormous upside. By offering the information, you are modeling that people have a right to ask and a right to know.
Safe firearm storage has enormous implications. Almost 1.7 million children live in homes with unsecured firearms and more than 80 percent of suicides occur with a family member’s gun. Moreover, research estimates that roughly 200,000-400,000 guns are stolen each year.
Whether the discussion is among family members, friends or acquaintances, the topic of access to guns is often rife with conflict. Encouraging safe storage of firearms may be a smart place to start. It’s not necessarily an easy conversation, but taking it out of the shadows gives us a way to talk about gun owner responsibilities and may, hopefully, inch us forward.
In recent years, many of us have become more engaged in community affairs and the political process. We have learned who represents us in Congress and maybe even attended a town council meeting. We have called our elected officials, spoken up on social media or possibly attended a rally. The underlying lesson that has emerged is that our voices should be heard, our opinions are worth sharing and our votes matter.
How can we share this lesson in activism with children and teens so they know, at an early age, that their voices count too? It’s not always convenient to include children and teens in our activism. Meetings and activities might take place during school hours or in the evenings while children are otherwise occupied. These circumstances may preclude including our children in the process and so we forge ahead on our own or with friends, leaving our children behind.
Instead, we should look at activism as an opportunity to educate our children and show them that we are fighting for the issues we believe will make their lives and the lives of others better. When it is age and subject appropriate, have your children and teens accompany you to rallies and town council meetings. Make calls to legislators with your children in earshot. An added bonus of engaging our children in advocacy is the chance to model respectful assertive behavior as opposed to divisive tirades.
What is the appropriate age to engage your children and teens? That’s a decision based on what you think your children can handle without adding undue anxiety to their lives. Some issues lend themselves to youth engagement better than others, such as the environment or food insecurity.
We have the opportunity to raise a generation that understands that speaking up is just something we do because it’s the right thing to do. Let’s not squander it by leaving them behind.
New Jersey Election Day is almost upon us.
During this past year, you may have made your first nervous call to a legislator, shown up at a rally and promised to not keep silent about issues important to you. At NCJW/Essex, we have continued to raise our voices about some of the issues we care about: women’s access to reproductive health care, gun safety, voting rights, and economic equality for the most vulnerable — to name just a few. However, it’s easy to let our advocacy slip away as we go about our busy lives. How do we keep up the pressure?
The answer is to VOTE. Election Day is a chance to reinvigorate yourself with a trip to the polls and to exercise your most fundamental right as an American citizen — the right to vote. This November 7th, all statewide NJ elected offices, including Governor and Lt. Governor, are up for election. Unfortunately, turnout for NJ non-presidential elections is dismally low — only 20.8% of eligible voters showed up to vote in 2015.
Do you have friends and family members who aren’t registered to vote? Keep voter registration forms handy to encourage them to register — you can even offer to help fill it out and drop it in the mail! Remember — the deadline to register to vote is October 17th. Use social media in a respectful way to remind your contacts to get out on Election Day. And when you head out the door to cast your vote, call some friends and make a carpool!
Remember, November 7th is your chance to speak up with your strongest voice — your VOTE.
Visit www.njelections.org to obtain voter registration and vote by mail applications.