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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Renee Hopkins: Twenty-five years after my brother’s slaying, gun violence still brings trauma

By Renee Hopkins

By Renee Hopkins

Feb. 2 marked 25 years since a horrific school shooting at Frontier Jr. High School in Moses Lake. It marked 25 years since I lost my brother Arnie. It marked 25 years since another student and teacher were killed along with my brother. It marked 25 years since a classroom of teenagers, a school of students and faculty, and an entire community endured a traumatic event they couldn’t have imagined happening to them.

Sadly, I know the excruciating details of what happened to Arnie and his classmates. I know that they dove under their desks for protection. I know that they pleaded with the shooter to stop. I know that they begged the shooter to let classmates carry my severely wounded brother out of the classroom in an attempt to save his life. I know that a heroic teacher stormed the room and tackled the shooter, rendering him unable to continue the violence. I know that as that was happening, my brother was taking his last breaths in the school hallway. Through these details and others, I have some idea of the terror they faced in those minutes that felt like a lifetime.

On Jan. 6, as I watched the insurrection led by armed, white supremacist, domestic terrorists at our nation’s Capitol, I was struck not just by the enormous tragedy being broadcast on screens across our country, but also by watching our congresswomen and men diving under chairs, running in terror, donning protective gear and texting family members.

I wondered – will this finally make them take action? Now will they act to stop gun violence, to root out the violence that we have come to accept as part of our daily lives in America? Will this be enough to end the unholy union of white supremacy, guns and political expression? I wondered, now that our members of Congress have felt the terror that tens of thousands of people feel every year in our country, now that they find themselves on the receiving end of gun violence – will they finally do something?

Gun violence kills nearly 40,000 people a year in our country, and injures twice as many. It costs the country billions of dollars annually. And it exacts an incalculable human cost, robbing community after community of the feeling and reality of safety.

Shootings like the one that killed my brother are the ones that make the headlines. But it is the daily toll of community violence, which devastates BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities, and the nearly silent epidemic of suicide by firearm, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths, that ravage our country.

We know now that the COVID-19 pandemic did nothing to slow the spread of the epidemic of gun violence. In fact, gun violence in all of its expressions – suicide, community violence, domestic violence, mass shootings and unintentional shootings – has been exacerbated by the COVID crisis.

Twenty-five years later I still have moments – hours, even full days – when I am haunted by the trauma and terror my brother and his classmates endured. I am also haunted by the continued impact that trauma has had on so many lives. But what truly haunts me is the refusal of our federal government to act on common-sense gun laws that will decrease the carnage and save lives in the communities they have taken an oath to serve.

And, while in Washington state we have been leading the charge on state-based change to reduce gun violence, we have so much more to do. I will be watching closely.

Will Congress finally act? And will its state level colleagues continue working to pass common-sense gun laws and support community-based programming to prevent the loss of precious lives and spare entire communities the trauma of those losses?

As I remember Arnie today, I will do so with sorrow and hope, but also with a dedication to demand action with every breath I have left.

Renee Hopkins is CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.