Black Courage in the Gun Violence Prevention Movement
Courage means standing up to do the right thing, even if it is unpopular or you have to defy powerful interests. Some politicians are too comfortable being in the pocket of the gun industry instead of protecting their constituents by passing gun safety legislation.
Two leaders, in particular, stand out to me as an example of courage: Congressman John Lewis was my friend, mentor, and predecessor. He is also a hero to me and countless others because of his tireless fight for voting rights. Congressman Lewis put his life on the line so that I could vote. If it wasn’t for him and other civil rights leaders, I wouldn’t be in Congress today. Congressman Lewis knew that his life’s work wouldn’t always be easy but he knew he had a moral obligation to stand up and get into some “good trouble.”
As the first Black Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm paved the way for me and every other Black congresswoman. I am proud to stand on her shoulders as the first Black woman to represent Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. There are still people who say I shouldn’t be here simply because of who I am. But I draw inspiration from Shirley Chisholm and her slogan “unbought, unbossed” as I create a safer, more equitable country for everyone.
We live in a country where gun violence is an everyday reality. And this is not by accident—we are here because of policy choices. And the only way to move forward is with more innovative and better policy choices.
It’s sad to see how gun violence impacts every facet of our communities—even my son. I remember asking him about his tornado drills. Carter then followed up and told me they practice “what to do when the bad guys come.” Y’all, my then-six-year-old Carter told me they have to hide in the closet. And that there isn’t always enough room for everyone.
We must do better as a country. That means coming together, making our voices heard, and electing leaders who truly represent us.
Every day in Congress I will push for gun safety because our community spaces should never be war zones. In the 117th Congress, I helped pass the first major gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which President Biden signed into law. While this law doesn’t do everything I would want, I will take any step I can to save lives.
And there is still much more for us to do.
First, we must continue to build on the protections included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. On February 1, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives. This bill, while significant, did not take every step needed for comprehensive gun safety in America. The House did its part, passing the bill twice. Now it is time for the Senate to show leadership and send the Bipartisan Background Checks Act to President Biden’s desk to become law. Later this year, I will re-introduce my bill, the SAFES Act, to provide a tax credit for people to buy gun safes so we can properly store firearms at home.
Together, we can do better.
Black History Month
This Black History Month, we hold space for the Black survivors of gun violence and recognize the gun safety advocates leading the charge at all levels to keep our communities safe. We know that we still have a long way to go to end gun violence—particularly its impact on the Black community, and we’re holding space for survivors of gun violence and Black advocates to continue to effect positive change. We are continuously working to stop gun violence through both grassroots and national channels, as we focus on and elevate the work and successes of the many Black voices who have helped progress the gun violence prevention movement and keep their communities—and the country—safe.
Congresswoman Nikema Williams (she/her/hers)
U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District