El Paso. Dayton. Virginia Beach. Thousand Oaks. Parkland.

The story is the same, time after time. Headlines and sirens and hashtags and weeping family members flood your news feed as you slowly gather details about the latest mass shooting. White male, history of violence, dozens dead, more injured, thoughts and prayers. It's become a macabre routine for Americans, one that repeats itself every week if we're lucky and every day if we're not.

Each time it happens, the response is the same. One side of the political aisle begs for stricter gun laws and blames the NRA, while the other insists that guns are not to blame, pointing fingers at mental illness and immigrants and video games and a decline in family values. Both sides agree that what just happened was a tragedy, but most people (politicians included) spend more energy vilifying those on the other side than taking action.

Yes, debate is a component of a healthy democracy. Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Yes, pointing out flaws in another side's logic is important if we're going to find a solution to gun violence once and for all.

But in times of repeated tragedy, it's crucial that we step back and remember those who can no longer contribute to the gun control debate. Since the beginning of 2019, we have lost over 8,000 Americans to mass shooting incidents. Eight thousand Americans who, through no fault of their own, have been used as pawns in a debate that has been at a stalemate since Columbine. This has to end.

Grief and empathy are not planks for your political platform. A photograph of a high school student torn apart by bullets isn't an example to bolster your latest gun control bill, it's just sad. A shooter who had an abusive childhood isn't a piece of evidence that guns aren't the problem, it's a person who made a series of devastating choices that affected a whole community. We as a country don't have the luxury of sitting back and having intellectual debates about the role of guns in America. If we have any respect for the thousands of innocent victims of gun violence, we will overcome our ideological differences and admit that any change, no matter how small, is more important than gridlock and stubborn adherence to one way of thinking.

I don't know what the solution to America's gun problem is, and I don't know if we'll ever be able to find it. What I do know is this: the worst possible thing we can do right now is allow our stubborn political beliefs to stand in the way of progress. No matter where you stand on the gun debate, it is your duty to channel the grief you feel when you read about yet another mass shooting and use it to inspire change in whatever way you can. Call your representatives. Organize a march. Donate. Write an op-ed. Vote, vote, vote. Whatever you do, don't become complacent with tragedy.

Gun violence is not political — it's a poison that takes down whole communities when they're least expecting it, and no one is immune. If America's people can come together and admit that change is the only way to put an end to this madness, history will be a lot more kind to us than if we continue to do nothing at all.