80 percent of Americans support common-sense gun control. Stop making excuses and get it done.

After a year where public mass shootings hit a historic low due to COVID-19, America has been rocked by two in the past month, leaving many — once again — with a feeling of helplessness. On March 16, a gunman in Atlanta, Georgia murdered eight people in massage spas, six of the victims were Asian.

On Monday, a gunman in Boulder, Colorado murdered ten people in a supermarket.

After a year out of the headlines, the topic of gun control has made it to the forefront once again. The maddening thing is even though the vast majority of Americans support common-sense gun control laws, nothing ever gets past Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

There are two significant gun-control policies that enjoy bipartisan support, the assault weapons ban and universal background checks.


A 2019 poll reported by Politico found that 70% of Americans support an assault weapons ban, including 86% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. The same year, a National Public Radio (NPR), PBS Newshour, and Maris College poll found that 83% of Americans believe Congress should pass legislation that requires background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales.

Pew Research found that Americans on both sides of the political divide overwhelmingly support universal background checks. Ninety-three percent of Democrats and 82% of Republicans said they favored, "making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks."


via Maryland GovPics

One of the biggest reasons why Republicans refuse to pass any gun-control legislation is a paralyzing fear of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Many Republican legislators are afraid that a negative grade from the organization will immediately end their careers.

The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington and spends money with laser-like precision, elevating those who support gun rights and taking down those who favor gun control.

That means it's nearly impossible to get a Republican to support gun safety laws, even though only 1.5% of Americans are members of the NRA and 70% don't even own a gun.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 that killed 26 people, including 20 children and school employees, President Barack Obama got little support from Senate Republicans to pass a gun control bill supported by 90% of Americans. "It came down to politics—the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections. [Congress members] worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment," Obama said in a speech afterward.

Last Friday, after the Atlanta shooting, president Joe Biden spoke out about the need for Congress to take action this time.

"I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future, and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act," Biden said.

On Tuesday, Biden called for the Senate to "immediately pass" two bills the House recently approved that change background check laws.

Biden has a long record of supporting gun-control measures. In 1993, he helped pass the Brady Bill which first established the background check and waiting period requirements. In 1994, he wrote a controversial crime bill that included a 10-year ban on assault weapons.

The problem Biden faces is that passing common-sense gun legislation would need 60 votes to make it through the Senate, so 10 Republicans would have to flip. However, some lawmakers believe that the current moment gives Democrats one of the best chances they have at getting something done because the NRA has been weakened over the past few years.

The NRA declared bankruptcy earlier this year and in 2018 it was outspent by gun-control groups for the first time ever.

"I think the implosion of the NRA, the growing support among the American people and the inevitability of increased support gives us an opportunity we haven't had before," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said earlier this month. He added: "What's changed is we now have a president who can put pressure on our colleagues."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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