Over the past month, our country has suffered a flood of depraved, high-profile mass-shootings. The violence in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa should rock the foundations of our moral conscience and move us to prevent that same gun-inflicted pain from devastating any more communities.

There’s no substitute for congressional action. But in the face of a gridlocked Congress, we need to turn to our own county, state and region and do whatever we can to extinguish the horrors of gun violence at home.

Our community is certainly no stranger to the pain of gun violence.

Just earlier this year, the presence of a gun allowed a bathroom fight between two students, ages 17 and 15, at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood to escalate into almost lethal violence— with one teenager shooting the other and putting him on life support for three weeks.

Then there’s the horrific churn of gun violence that’s become so routine in our community that it doesn’t even make big headlines. In May, a 16-year-old and a 21-year-old both died from gunshot wounds in Germantown. In April, a 19-year-old was shot and killed in a parking lot in Silver Spring. In February, a man was fatally shot blocks from Rockville High School.

On the whole, gun violence is on the rise in Montgomery County, with a surge in gun murders and illegal firearms recovered by police.

This local escalation of gun violence is part of an unsettling trend statewide. In 2019, Maryland had the seventh highest firearm homicide rate in the United States. Baltimore City, which has been hit particularly hard by gun violence, has the second highest murder rate in the United States.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be scared in classrooms or nervous to walk down the street at night. Our Constitution guarantees us the right to live, both free from gun violence and free from the fear of gun violence in everyday life.

Policymakers throughout our county, state and region should come together and codify that sacred freedom into policy and law.

At the county level, our school system needs to exponentially increase its investments in student well-being. After two years of trauma from the pandemic and isolation from their peers, our community’s young people are hurting. MCPS’s efforts to hire social workers and spark dialogue on mental health deserve props and should be ramped up. Still, more work must be done to bring actual, substantive restorative justice and trauma-informed learning into practice in our classrooms and hallways.

It’s not idealistic to believe that our schools can help students resolve conflicts productively in places other than bathrooms and without one student feeling the need to come with a gun.

At the state level, we can still do far better at regulating guns. Even with our state’s comparatively robust firearm laws, Maryland has the opportunity to lead the country in new, innovative models of gun safety. State delegate candidate Joe Vogel has laid out that kind of bold vision that should be adopted by the legislature: using increased taxes on ammunition to fund evidence-based violence intervention programs, legally requiring the safe storage of firearms, implementing microstamping technology, and requiring liability insurance for gun owners.

Simultaneously, we need to recognize poverty as the dominant force fueling gun murders throughout our state, from Silver Spring to Baltimore. By shedding its usual slowness and urgently moving to address affordable housing, food insecurity and education, our state legislature can make significant progress in stemming our state’s gun violence.

Ultimately, however, Maryland can’t address the gun violence within our borders alone. Fifty-four percent of the guns used in crimes in Maryland that could be traced came from outside the state. Laxer gun laws in Pennsylvania and Virginia actively facilitate the flow of illegal guns into Maryland.

Our state’s leaders should work with their regional peers to crack down on the flow of illegal guns into our state. If the leaders of neighboring states aren’t willing to cooperate, Maryland’s attorney general should take aggressive action to hold those states accountable for the death and devastation they are enabling in our communities here.

We need our national policymakers to heed the cries of our country’s children and do something to end gun violence. But gridlock in Congress is no excuse for inaction in our own community. We can’t wait to act here in Maryland. Our state, local and regional leaders need to step up and do their part so we can all realize our constitutionally guaranteed freedom from gun violence.

Rising Voices is an occasional column by Nate Tinbite, a John F. Kennedy High School graduate; Ananya Tadikonda, a Richard Montgomery High School graduate; and Matt Post, a Sherwood High School graduate. All three are recent student members of the Montgomery County Board of Education.