ATLANTA — Vice President Kamala Harris asked a crowd of students from historically Black colleges and universities to raise their hands if they had ever participated in an active shooter drill. Every hand went up.
Last week, Harris stood outside the White House as the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention was announced. On Tuesday, she was on the latest stop on her college tour to talk about issues including guns with young Americans. She told them that policymakers don’t have to choose between Second Amendment rights and taking all guns away.
“We’re talking being in favor of the Second Amendment, which I am. I’m also talking reasonable gun safety laws,” she said. “We need an assault weapons ban. It’s a weapon that was designed to kill a lot of people quickly and it has no place on the streets of civil society. Background checks, that’s just reasonable.”
Harris pointed out that guns are the leading cause of death for children in the United States and that Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be victims of gun violence.
“It is in our collective best interest to agree that we really ought to do better and it doesn’t have to be this way, “ Harris told the crowd. “And the solutions don’t really require a lot of rocket science.”
Stefanie Feldman, a longtime Biden adviser and the new director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said the White House wants to work with local law enforcement to make sure laws that are already on the books are enforced. Feldman also said the office will work with states and cities to try to advance new measures, since the chances of anything getting through Congress seem slim.
“There are a lot of women-led and LGBTQI+-led gun violence prevention organizations which we are excited to partner with and see passed, for example, even stronger laws that would prohibit someone convicted of stalking from purchasing a firearm — which is something the president also wants at the federal level,” Feldman told The 19th. “But in the meantime, we’re going to help some more states pass that law.”
Feldman touted Harris’ leadership and said she can bring together people, including elected officials, and corporations that might play a role in combating gun violence.
“So many people across the country feel constant anxiety about gun violence, and there’s no one better than the vice president to really connect with people on this issue,” she said. “She’s been going to colleges around the country recently to talk about a variety of issues and gun violence continues to come up — and she listens. She has a record of action that she can point to all the way from her days as a district attorney and then attorney general in California.”
Before Harris spoke Tuesday at Morehouse College, 18-year-old Spelman College student Sarah Sloam said she thought it was time for the country to acknowledge the impact of gun violence on young people’s mental health. For her, Harris is perfectly poised to lead on this.
Sloam said she grew up in “predominantly White areas” and now attends an HBCU in downtown Atlanta. Her experiences have shown her how universal the impact of living under the fear of gun violence is.
“Making it better is not necessarily taking away rights to the Second Amendment, but just being able to better establish a safe space for our students in our society,” Sloam said.
The push from the White House comes ahead of Supreme Court arguments in United States vs. Rahimi, which centers on whether states can ban people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms. Women experience domestic violence at about twice the rate of men, and the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.
“We really need to both make sure that we are keeping guns out of the hands of people who can be dangerous, but we also need to make sure that people who might be victims of domestic violence really have the things they need,” Feldman said.
Feldman told The 19th that next steps would be announced in the near future. For now, though, Feldman said she thinks about how success will be defined for this new office.
“I hope that this work will save a lot of lives and that people will never know that is the work that saved their lives — and they will go on to have children, to get married, to do work that they love, to live their lives, and have joy,” Feldman said. “And if that happens, we have succeeded in our work.”
Originally published by The 19th
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