By JEFF KURNICK
This speech was originally read at the UT Walkout on Mar. 14.
My name is Jeff Kurnick, but today the names that matter the most are the ones written on the sidewalk around us of the people who we have lost due to gun violence.
Thank you all for coming out. I am sorry we had to meet under such circumstances, but I would be even more sorry if we did not meet at all. For the outright murders that occured in Parkland, FL to have happened without a response is not going to be the way our student body handles this issue. The UT student body cannot stay silent any longer. Now more than ever we need to unify as a community and set the tone for future. A future we have control over.
In order to enact the change we need, let us start by taking steps in making sure that the slaying of our neighbors, friends and family will come to a halt. While change scares some, to grow and strengthen as a whole we must embrace it. I am fed up with hearing from the average person about how it is impossible to achieve change. We as a country have gone from owning black slaves to having a black president, from the printing press to the internet, from the Ford Model T to the Ford Mustang, change is within our blood. Now we need to use this forward thinking that made America once a great nation to help further the conversation on gun legislation. How can so many of our citizens claim that we live in the greatest country when we cannot solve our own internal threats. We are the only developed nation that has to regularly deal with mass shootings and gun violence.
However through the power of young people, like all of you here, we are beginning to see progress. Through rallies and demand of change from the people we are finally seeing results. Florida already has passed a bill to raise the age to purchase a weapon to 21, increasing waiting times to purchase, and a ban on bump stocks. This is a beginning of the change we need. However we still have most Americans being able to purchase a weapon that was made for mass murder, the assault rifle. One of these, the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a gun that was previously banned until 2004, was used in Aurora, San Bernardino, Newtown, Las Vegas, Orlando and Parkland. People, the answer to this issue is right in front of us but in the interest of keeping their jobs, politicians put themselves in the pocket of the NRA, a group that doesn’t care about the Second Amendment and only the money that comes from guns. Delaying rectification of an issue that has been growing too consistently. The average person having an assault weapon simply does not make sense. How many more Parklands, Newtowns, Las Vegases have to happen before we’re next? Now they want to arm our teachers. To deal with poverty we do not try to induce more poverty. When dealing with famine we do not try to spread more famine to end the hunger. So why are people so keen on introducing more guns to stop this issue? No person needs an assault rifle for game nor do people here in this country need them at all.
When walking into a music festival we expect a song to get stuck in our head for the next week and to annoy our friends with signing it all day long. When we attend school we expect to gain a new opinion on the world as we know it among people that share a love for learning. When one enters the military they enter knowing that guns, grenades, and the chance of death will surround. Here and in our everyday lives we should not have to carry the burden of that same mindset someone would going into the battle. The same streets we bike down should not be the same streets people are getting shot down upon. But over the past few years this has become all to normal. Yet some seem to be unphased by the tragedies because they have no personal involvement. Well let me tell you this, the people that die tragically during these shootings are people too, people that had families, aspirations, and maybe one day could have made this world a better place. That alone should be enough for you to think about the subject personally. The families of the fallen have gone on to talk about the gun reform they wish to see. Does a change of mind have to take the death of a child or loved one for us to see that reforms need to be made?
Now I have been told that going back looking at our constitution that this would be going against the Second Amendment. Which goes as follows: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. Owning guns to protect the free state is long gone, and if you would like to argue tell me how you use your gun for securing freedom here in America.
Now I am always open to listening to the opposing side, but in observation around this campus people seem to restrain themselves in approaching a common ground. Are we still so immature as humans that the only means to get our way is through intimidation and not conversation? Conversation that so many people shy away from in fear of actually having to critically think. When we share our beliefs of social justice we should not feel as though we are committing social suicide. For that is the mindset that goes on around this campus. It was my belief when coming to college that is was a place to expand our thinking, not just a stepping stone towards a career. If all you get out of this system is a few good stories and a career, college has failed you. We are here to learn the ability to right the wrongs of the past leading towards a more sustainable future. Who is to say that the past has the best intentions for our future. We all have made mistakes, why do we hold our politicians that made these laws to such high standards that they cannot. In my home state of Illinois before 2009, four out of the last eight governors were imprisoned. These people are mortal like all of us, and with that being said, their choices should also be questioned.
Now this conversation for far too long has been a fight between Democrats and Republicans. Bullets do not care what party you are from. This is a conversation for our safety and if we need to side with the party other than the one we usually side with to protect lives is the choice not clear? Well let me tell you now, I think we can swallow some of our pride because changing our minds sounds like a better option than being shot at.
I tried to stay away from rage and anger while writing this. I thought these emotions were out of control, and that they would only inspire hate that some rallies turn into. I am here to proclaim do not stay away from these emotions, for inside this rage we hold for injustices we face today is a love we have for justice we wish to see tomorrow. Use this love to march with Tampa for gun control on the 24th, use this love to write to your congressman demanding change and a ban on assault weapons, use this love to register to vote to ensure your voice is heard, use this love to be more well informed on subjects other than what your friends did last weekend and figure out what is going on in this country that we live in and gain the means to make it a better one.
Jeff Kurnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org