Jennifer Beals currently stars as a national intelligence officer on NBC’s Taken (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET). But when she’s not doling out government orders onscreen, the actress and activist uses her voice—and social media platforms—to call for real-life political change. Here, she discusses a topic that she’s particularly vocal about: the need for gun safety.
Back in school, we all learned about specific periods of history. We were taught about when America was founded and what happened during the mid-1800s and the 1960s. We were told that these were “periods” of history, as if each period were static. But as time goes on, we begin to learn that the “period,” in history, is really more of a comma. There’s a thread that connects all of these major moments, and when we suddenly realize that we’re living in one of those very moments, it’s up to us to steer things the way we think they should be.
That’s why I’m often compelled to speak out when I see an issue come up on social media that really resonates with me, like gun violence. Right now, our country has a gun violence [crisis]. It's been there a long time, but it’s growing, and in light of movements like Black Lives Matter and March for our Lives, I think we’re finally at a tipping point where that can change. We’re seeing things more clearly, and I’m hoping we can hit critical mass. One way we can do that is by turning to our social media platforms and to the the community that we’ve created online. Because when we continue talking to each other, the trauma doesn’t get normalized.
You know there is a huge problem going on, politically, when anyone starts prioritizing guns before kids, and we must use our voices in anyway possible to create change. It pains me to see what's happening to my country. It pains me to hear about a defenseless, young, black man being ruthlessly slaughtered in his own backyard. It pains me to hear about students being shot at and killed on far too regular a basis. And it pains me to watch watch as students who survived those attacks—and should be taking the time to grieve—have to become braver than any of our politicians.
The kids from Parkland, Fl., are truly nothing short of heroic. It's incredibly inspiring when you think about what they've been through and how they are transforming that pain into action. My hope is that they are the wake-up call and the torch bearers right now, and that those people who are not on board with creating a plan to heal the country get voted out. They have no business being in office—they are there to represent all of us. The majority of Americans do, in fact, support universal background checks and raising the age limit to buy a gun. But being a citizen of a democracy requires action—and while the absolute minimal requirement of living in a democracy is to vote, it [works better with] participation and critical thinking.
While it’s very easy to have a conversation thanks to forums like social media, it's also important to listen very carefully to one another so that misinformation isn’t being pinged around. You have to listen to why somebody is concerned that you're talking about taking their guns away. Then, you can make it clear that, “No, I'm not talking about taking your guns away. I'm talking about making sure guns aren't in the hands of the wrong people and looking at what kind of guns you feel you need. Do you really need an assault weapon? Can we talk about why you feel you need an assault weapon?” As painful as it can be, it’s crucial to really have these conversations right now as the divide in our country grows deeper.
Early on last year, I realized that I might be calling my representatives a lot. Sure enough, I now keep a list of their numbers by the kitchen phone as well as in my cell phone contacts. When we see that the rights we have always taken for granted are in jeopardy, and that the grounds upon which we imagine the country to function are being threatened, it’s up to us to do something. I think people recently woke up and thought, “Oh, this is a really scary time.” We thought this happened to other countries; we didn't think this happened to us. But now it is happening to us, and we all need to wake up and do something.
I have such hope for this generation of kids that's coming up. They’re tough. They've grown up with social media and dealt with trolling. Another generation might have been paralyzed by the attacks that they receive, but this one just keeps on going. They’re strong and purposeful, and they’re supportive of one another. How can you not want to help your country and help them as well?