I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine you’re at the grocery store, shopping like you always do. As you’re grabbing one of your favorites off of the shelf, a gunshot echoes through the store. And another. And then another. Over and over again. People are running and screaming. The air smells like gunpowder. There’s blood on the floor.
What did you feel? Fear? Confusion? Maybe anger? I felt terror. I bet the thousands of people shopping at Walmart in El Paso earlier this month felt it too.
Mass shootings are acts of terrorism, designed to instill fear, driven by hate, and made possible by weak federal gun laws. Recently, these acts have been carried out by a specific kind of terrorist: homegrown, American white supremacists.
Unfortunately, we know that kind of terrorism all too well in Eastern Washington. Not so long ago, hate groups attempted to bomb events in Spokane. They were successful in setting off a bomb at Spokane City Hall. Racist hate groups continue to operate in the area, trying to make Eastern Washington a home for their vile ideology and violent tendencies.
Since 2013, I have led an organization whose mission is eliminating racism and empowering women. Working to carry out our mission means I have heard far too many stories of community members who have experienced the kind of racism and misogyny that helped fuel the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The threat of hate-fueled violence is growing, and it’s time for action. We cannot allow hate to thrive in our communities.
We may not be able to prevent hate from taking root, but we can help prevent that hate from turning deadly. We must make it harder for extremist groups to carry out their violent plans by making it harder for them to get guns.
In Washington, we’ve started to take action to disarm hate, by creating Extreme Risk Protection Orders and strengthening our hate crimes statutes. These policies are making a difference in our communities, but extremists in Idaho aren’t subject to Washington’s laws and pose just as much of a threat. We need federal action.
We need stronger background checks on all gun sales, no matter where the sale takes place and no matter who is selling the gun. We need to restrict access to high-capacity magazines – accessories like the one that allowed the shooter in Dayton to kill nine people and wound 27 more in just 30 seconds.
We need funding and policies that empower law enforcement agencies to investigate white nationalist terror groups and, where appropriate, remove firearms from those groups. We need to make sure that a history of committing hate crimes is always a reason someone is prohibited from buying or possessing firearms.
Our state is leading the way. We’ve stood up to the gun lobby and their allies, including white supremacist militias. It’s time for our members of Congress – particularly those who represent areas which have experienced the terror of white supremacist violence – to have the courage to do the same.
Regina Malveaux is a gun violence prevention advocate living in Spokane.
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