This week marks the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting in my city of Dayton, Ohio. A little after 1 a.m. on Aug. 4, 2019, a troubled young man with easy access to an assault weapon opened fire on a crowded, historic street on a warm summer evening.
In just 32 seconds, he killed nine people and wounded another 17. If not for quick action by law enforcement, dozens more may have died.
Hours later, I stood on stage at an emotional candlelight vigil in front of thousands of my friends and neighbors. As our Republican governor, Mike DeWine, rose to speak, they began to chant “Do Something!”
Working hard for change
A number of memories from that day are still seared in my mind. The smell of bleach as men in hazmat suits cleaned blood off the sidewalk. The cries of mothers just told that their child was murdered. The anguish on the faces of my community as I stood on that stage and listened to them chant — do something.
I have dedicated much of the last year to try to heed their call. I did more interviews than I can count. I wrote op-eds. I testified before the U.S. House of Representatives. I spoke to Senators. I built a bipartisan coalition with Gov. DeWine in support of sensible, albeit inadequate, gun reforms. I worked to build momentum behind a ballot initiative for universal background checks. I spoke to any group that would listen. I ran myself — and my staff — ragged.
For a brief moment, it seemed like something might finally break loose. The shooting in Dayton occurred just hours after the shooting in El Paso. The twin tragedies seemed to capture the nation’s attention in a new way. We thought that this time, maybe, we might be able to do something.
But now, a year later, nothing has changed. And at the one-year anniversary, our community cannot even gather together in person because of the continued threat of COVID-19.
In many ways, the crisis we now face with COVID-19 feels familiar. With the immense human suffering of both gun violence and COVID-19, I always come back to the same thought: “It didn’t have to be this way.”
Just like with gun violence, Republican politicians in Columbus and Washington, D.C. have stood in the way of taking real action to keep us safe and healthy during this pandemic. The same extreme state Representatives in Ohio who blocked gun control legislation have fought tooth and nail against mask mandates. The same GOP U.S. Senators who refused to bring background check legislation to a vote now refuse to send aid to struggling communities.
Making the necessary changes
We do not have to endure endless mass shootings. We know exactly what policy changes we could enact immediately to save lives. Universal background checks, red flag laws, assault weapons bans – all of these impactful policies have immense public support without infringing on Second Amendment rights.
We do not have to have endure endless death and economic despair from COVID-19. We know exactly what policy changes we could enact to immediately save lives. Comprehensive testing, mandatory masks, a real social safety net — we do not have to make people choose between their lives and their livelihoods. We see other countries around the world navigating the COVID-19 crisis with far less loss.
These are not natural disasters. These are disasters created by politicians across our country who refuse to act.
I have spent the last twelve months engulfed in these two crises, trying to find solutions with our state and federal elected officials. Unfortunately, I am now convinced that the only answer is to elect new leaders up and down the ballot who are committed to real, transformative action.
In November, we have the chance to hold accountable the people who allow gun violence to continue unabated. In November, we have the chance to insist that our country take comprehensive measures — like most of the rest of the world — to control the spread of COVID-19. In November, we have our chance to do something.
When people ask me what they can do to commemorate what happened on Aug. 4 in Dayton, I tell them to vote. Vote to honor the victims of gun violence in Dayton and across the country. Vote to stand up for the needless death and despair caused by COVID-19.
On a hot night a year ago, at the end of the longest day of my life, I promised the people of Dayton that I would do something. I intend to keep that promise. I hope you will join me.
Nan Whaley is the mayor of Dayton, Ohio.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mayor of Dayton: one-year anniversary of mass shooting