At tonight's State of the Union, there'll be an empty seat. Here's why.

Of the many guests President Obama and the first lady will invite to the State of the Union, one stands out.

It was the first guest announced, and it's arguably the most important, and sadly relatable, guest an administration has ever played host to. That guest is, of course, the empty seat, representing those who've been lost to gun violence.


Since the announcement, families of gun violence victims and survivors have rallied around the hashtag #EmptySeat, using it to express the feeling of loss that comes along with losing loved ones to gun violence.


"It's terrifyingly easy to buy a gun without a background check in far too many states." — Lucy McBath, mother of 17-year-old shooting victim Jordan Davis

Some of the families sharing their stories lost loved ones in highly publicized mass shootings.

Such as Dave Sanders, a teacher who was gunned down trying to save students during the attack at Columbine High School.


Or 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was shot and killed in the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook.


"#EmptySeat is an expression of our daily anguish and grief for our loved ones stolen or affected by gun violence," Caren Teves told Upworthy in an email. She lost her 24-year-old son Alex Teves in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting that killed 12 and injured 70 in July 2012.

"It is a public outcry to demand Congressional action, as well as thanking President Obama for his executive actions."


People visit a memorial across the street from the Aurora, Colorado, theater where James Holmes opened fire on a crowd. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Lucy McBath — whose son Jordan Davis was 17 years old when he was shot and killed at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in an argument over loud music back in November 2012 — is also sadly familiar with the symbolism of the empty chair.

"At what should have been Jordan's high school graduation, his classmates left a seat open for him. His music teacher kept a chair open in class," McBath told Upworthy over email.

"To honor Jordan's memory, I've made it my life mission to help prevent other families from going through the pain of having a loved one taken by senseless gun violence."

Others are using the #EmptySeat hashtag to honor the many victims of gun violence whose stories we'll never hear.

This woman's uncle who died by suicide.


Or those who've had their weapons used against them.



A quick look through the hashtag can be absolutely heart-wrenching — so keep that in mind before you check it out. It provides a very real, very human look at loss, mourning, and the true cost of violence.

It's those stories — the ones we'd never otherwise hear — that make the #EmptySeat hashtag so powerful.

Regardless where you stand on gun control, it's clear that something needs to change.

Unfettered access to guns is not a sound policy position, nor was it the founders' intent when crafting the Second Amendment (that whole "well-regulated" part is pretty important). The overwhelming majority of Americans support mandatory background checks on all gun purchases. So why can't we make that happen?

"It's terrifyingly easy to buy a gun without a background check in far too many states," says McBath. "There is so much more we can do to keep guns out of dangerous hands. ... It's time for elected leaders in states across the country to close the loopholes that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns."

A memorial is set up in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood on Sept. 8, 2015. Nine were shot and killed over Labor Day weekend. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Standing by while people, like those remembered by friends and family with the #EmptySeat hashtag, continue to lose their lives to gun violence is not an option.

Platitudes like "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" do nothing to stem the ongoing loss of life. Placing blame on people with mental illness is neither fair nor effective at cutting down on violence. The fact is that the vast majority of people involved in shootings are not mentally ill.

While the executive actions laid out by President Obama are a start, they don't (and they can't) completely close the loophole that allows people to buy and sell guns without performing background checks at gun shows and via private sale. For this type of real, concrete change to happen, Congress needs to take action.

We need to do something. We don't need any more empty seats.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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