Alejandro was just getting started in life, throwing himself into marketing classes at Temple University. His bright future stretched out in front of him — and me. I looked forward to watching him cross the stage at graduation. Instead, I put flowers on my son’s grave.
We want to believe that gun violence could never happen to our families. It’s a coping mechanism to deal with America’s brutal gun-violence epidemic. But I am a member of a club that no one wants to join and yet continues to grow, because more than 100 people in the United States are shot and killed, on average, and hundreds more are injured every single day. The truth is that gun violence can happen to any one of us because this crisis has spiraled so far out of control.
After Alejandro was shot and killed on Jan. 24, 2015, I wanted to give up. I felt there was nothing to live for. And then I realized that if a thief comes to your home and takes one of your most precious things, you don’t run after them and offer them more. I didn’t want to surrender to the evil, to what had happened. I didn’t want to give up my mind, my health, and my relationship with my daughter because a man without compassion shot and killed my son. I decided to fight.
I found a circle of families like mine who have turned their pain into immense compassion. With a lot of hard work and a mighty dose of grace, I founded the National Homicide Justice Alliance and then MAMA — Madres Apoyando Madres de Asesinados, or Mothers Supporting Mothers of Murder Victims. For me, it was crucial to raise my voice in both English and Spanish, because even though 3,600 Latinos die from gun violence in the United States every single year, we’re not talking about gun violence enough in the Latino community. Then I got involved with Everytown for Gun Safety’s network of survivors to help fight for gun safety nationwide.
We are an army of volunteers. No one is paying us to put in early mornings, late nights, and long weekends to get out the vote for gun sense candidates — those committed to passing lifesaving gun laws — this fall. We do it because we know our stories are powerful. We do it for our children, who can’t fight for themselves. We do it because our families deserve better than living in fear of gun violence. If we are able to save even one family from going through the grief we have, it is worth it. One of the tools at our disposal is voting.
We have a Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who let several pieces of lifesaving, bipartisan gun-violence legislation, like the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, die on his desk while Americans died in the streets. We have a rushed-through Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who supports a truly extreme interpretation of our gun laws, including allowing some people convicted of felonies to have guns. And here in Pennsylvania, we have Republican legislators who, as recently as last week, could have taken up legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales and risk protection legislation to help protect people in crisis and prevent mass shootings.
Polling shows that Pennsylvanians support stronger gun laws by a 9-1 ratio, yet lawmakers are more concerned with pleasing the National Rifle Association than protecting their constituents.
Our families' safety is at stake in this election, and not just because of COVID-19. Pennsylvania voters have a crucial role to play in electing gun sense champions up and down the ballot this fall. There are 21 gun sense candidates poised to flip the state House and Senate and 14 gun sense candidates running to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. House. We have the power to elect them all and rewrite our country’s history if we stand up and fight.
So vote as if your child’s life depends on who wins this election — because it absolutely does. No mother or father should have to bury their child because lawmakers refuse to pass the common-sense gun laws that we know will save lives. I’ve already buried my baby. I’m fighting, now, for yours.
Aleida Garcia is the president of the National Homicide Justice Alliance, the founder of MAMA (Madres Apoyando Madres de Asesinados), and a member of the Everytown Survivor Network. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.