Commentary: ‘Smarter laws’ needed to curb gun violence

On Feb. 16, 2015, I got a call that no mother should ever have to get. It was my daughter, telling me her twin brother, my son Deshon, had been shot. The first thing I felt was disbelief — it couldn’t be my son, it had to be some kind of joke. We had just talked a few hours earlier, when I had told him to wear a jacket before going out, something all mothers are familiar with.

It didn’t take long for reality to set in. Just blocks away from my home in Wilmington, I saw with my own eyes that Deshon’s life had been senselessly cut short with a gun.

The pain I felt on that day will never fully leave me. My son Deshon, who we called Poppy, was the light of my life and a loving brother to my five other children. He was outgoing, always kidding around, and he was constantly surrounded by friends. He may not have been perfect, but he was ready to focus on his future. Because of a bullet, Poppy would never get that chance.

After his shooting, the only way to stop the intense anger and pain from consuming me was to put words to my struggle. Slowly but surely, I started to speak more about what happened to my son and my family. It was grueling to talk about his shooting and relive the worst moment of my life, but I surprised myself with my own strength. Talking about Deshon and the senseless violence that ended his life gave me new purpose.

I’m doing everything I can to repair the damage done to my family and my community. But it’s not enough to try to clean a wound that will never fully heal — I want change. If we’re going to make a difference, we need smarter laws that will keep our entire state safe from gun violence. That’s why I’m using my experience to hold our lawmakers accountable and demand they take action on the shootings in our state.

This year, new legislation has been introduced to add another layer of protection to help ensure public safety. Senate Bill 82 would require Delawareans to apply for a permit before buying a firearm, giving law enforcement another chance to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. It ensures that before anyone can purchase a gun in Delaware, they must first go through an initial background check and safety training to guarantee they can handle a gun responsibly.

It would also allow law enforcement officials to deny permits to people who they know pose a danger to themselves or others with a gun. It will help prevent straw purchases of firearms and provide law enforcement officers with a vital tool to help investigate gun crimes and bring the people who commit them to justice.

Several other states around Delaware already have this law in place, and it has saved lives. Connecticut’s law requiring a permit in order to buy a handgun was associated with a 40 percent reduction in gun homicide rates during the 10 years that the law was in place. What’s more, lawmakers also have the chance to lessen the devastation of shootings with two bills that would limit large capacity magazine and prohibit assault weapons.

Learning my son had been shot and killed introduced me to a new type of grief I’d never known before. In the days and months that followed Deshon’s death, I had to relearn how to take care of myself and my family. But what I know now is this: the only way to overcome such a senseless tragedy is to make sure no one else has to go through the same thing.

Recently, our State Senate announced that it would indefinitely stall three pieces of life-saving gun violence prevention legislation, claiming lack of support in the legislature. It should be clear what mistake this is; if we can save just one life from gun violence, we should do it. If lawmakers truly care about the shootings in our state — like the one that killed Deshon and leave so many others wounded every day — this decision is a no brainer. Inaction is simply unacceptable.

I know that bills like SB 82 would mean fewer mothers mourning the deaths of their sons and fewer communities rebuilding after such heartbreaking violence. I refuse to give up on these bills because our lawmakers want to turn a blind eye to the crisis killing so many of us. I urge elected officials to step up and take action on a common-sense solution that will keep Delawareans safe from senseless gun violence. It’s time they stop sitting on their hands and vote on this life-saving legislation in the Senate Executive Committee.

Lanita Brooks is a Wilmington resident and survivor of gun violence.

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