On Monday, I received a late night text from my daughter. Someone she dearly loves had been shot in the shoulder. The good news is that he survived, though he is recovering from a shattered rib and a punctured lung.

The next morning, I woke up to two competing stories on NBC news. First, this weekend was marked by a particularly large number of shootings in the U.S., bringing this year’s number of mass shootings to more than 300. This number does not include any of the shootings like the one that prompted my daughter’s text because a mass shooting is defined as more than 4 people being shot. If you include those shot in mass shootings and those shot in shooting events of fewer than 4 individuals, the total number of shootings in 2023 in the United States is 20,000.

The second story was about the reaction in Serbia to two mass shootings this May. After the shootings, a general amnesty for turning in weapons resulted in 70,000 firearms being surrendered. While there is a strong tradition of individual gun ownership in Serbia, there is also a tradition of rather stringent gun control laws. Nevertheless, within 2 months of the May events, additional measures were put in place, including 15 years in prison for ownership of an unregistered gun, tougher punishment for possessing a gun illegally, controls on weapon ownership (strict background checks, psychological evaluations, and drug tests), and additional controls on gun owners and gun shooting ranges.

Of course, there are many differences between Serbia and the United States, but there are many similarities as well. First, Serbia is the third most armed country in the world (following the United States and Yemen) which speaks to its strong tradition of individual gun ownership. Second, Serbian politics is almost as divided as U.S. politics. Nevertheless, Serbia was able to muster a consensus to effect these new laws in two month’s time.

Serbia is not the only country that has reacted to the horror of mass shootings in this way. So has the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.

Why can they pull this off and we cannot?
1. Is it because so many of our victims are Black? (Everytown for Gun Safety, a grassroots organization committed to reducing gun violence, reports that on average, every day, 30 Blacks in America are killed and an additional 110 sustain non-fatal wounds by firearms.)
2. Is it because there is so much money and power behind protecting the gun industry in our country?
3. Is it because social media continues to celebrate violence and elevate it as a solution to disagreement?

I do not have the answer, but I know that “thoughts and prayers” are toothless and I do believe that the American people are just as smart, resourceful, compassionate, and creative as the people in Serbia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.

I also believe that collectively we must confront those three questions I posed and if the answer is “yes” to any one of them, we must commit to actions that address these problems, actions that likely include but go beyond gun control laws. And I do believe that it will be the people/the voters who will get this work done. It will not be the politicians.