We are pathetic. Yes, all of us. We obviously don’t care enough about the carnage going on in our schools, our churches, our theaters, our grocery stores, our concerts, our workplaces, and myriad other places. If we cared enough, we would do something to curb gun violence.
I’ll be the first to admit that I started to feel hopeless, powerless, and numb after 20 first graders and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook in 2012. After all, I thought, if this doesn’t change things, what will?
More than a decade and eight mass school shootings later, not much has changed. In all, as reported by the AZ Daily Starjust this morning, 175 students have been massacred in 15 school shootings since 1999. As grisly as that number is, you may have been surprised it wasn’t larger. But then, it doesn’t include all the other mass shootings, defined as where four or more people are killed. So far in 2023, we’ve seen 130 mass shootings in the United States…averaging more than one per day. And, these heinous acts don’t just kill people, they make the rest of us fearful, just as terrorism is designed to do.
Thankfully, we now have some data about the extent and causes of the carnage since President Obama blocked the two-decade effort by the gun lobby and GOP to prevent the CDC from conducting gun research. Facts like this one reported by NPR.org, help us understand the problem,
“Just over 100 people, on average, are killed by firearms in the U.S. every day. That includes crimes, suicides, gun accidents, and shootings involving law enforcement.”
And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, (also from CDC data),
“Firearms were the leading cause of death in children between ages 1 and 19″ in 2020.”
No other peer country except for Canada had firearms in their top 5 causes of death for this age group. Canada’s 48 deaths (versus our 4,357) made it their 5th highest cause of death. Our high number of deaths is not so surprising when you learn that in 2017, the U.S. had 4% of the world’s population, but owned 46% of the guns. WTF?
We have met the enemy…and he is us! You, me, all of us. Because you see, a healthy democracy doesn’t allow “checking out”. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” He understood that when we don’t engage in our democracy, we abdicate our rights to self-govern and fully live our lives the way we choose. Author Daniel Suarez put it this way, “Democracy requires active participation, and sooner or later someone ‘offers’ to take all the difficult decision-making away from you and your hectic life.”
The only problem is those “someones” we are counting on to make the difficult decisions, aren’t doing it. In this morning’s New York Times, Congressman Tim Burchett (R), Tennesse, was quoted saying about additional gun safety measures, “We’re not going to fix it…criminals are going to be criminals”. This was just hours after three children and three adults were killed at a school in his home state. He said he saw no “real role” for Congress in this matter and offered “his solution for protecting his family was to home-school his children”. In other words, the hell with all y’all, I’m taking care of mine. And, Tennessee’s governor basically touted a “murderers gonna murder” trope when he said, “we can’t control what they do”.
Burchett is not alone in his refusal to act. The New York Times reports that Senator John Cornyn (R), Texas has dismissed President Biden’s calls for banning assault weapons as a set of “tired talking points”. Senator Cynthia Lummis (R), Wyoming said “I don’t think there’s any appetite” when referring to her party’s unwillingness to take on gun control legislation.
Senate Chaplain Barry Black however, didn’t hold back in an unusually urgent plea for action. He prayed aloud to “deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous.” “When babies die at a church school” he said, “it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers”. Not sure why it should matter that it was a church school, but have you noticed that GOP lawmakers are no longer offering their thoughts and prayers? That’s because they learned that, “that dog don’t hunt”. Instead with this latest shooting, they’ve decided they are just done with the whole thing, (as Congressman Burchett articulated) and are throwing the bullet (er…) ball, back in our court.
Well, as Abraham Lincoln said, “The ballot is stronger than the bullet” and that’s where “we the people” reclaim our power. That’s where we live the values we proclaim. That’s where we prove our individual and collective moral character by acting per our beliefs.
So, let’s not let the ball lie in our court. Let’s pick it up and commit to acting for change. How do we do that?
1. Vote in every election and help register and encourage others to vote
2. Join, donate, and volunteer for an organization such as Giffords.org or Everytown.org or BradyUnited.org, or myriad others.
3. Know which candidates support reducing gun violence and vote for them, volunteer for them, and donate to their campaigns.
4. If you can’t find someone you believe can affect the change needed, run for office yourself.
5. Hold your current lawmakers, at every level, accountable. Follow what they are doing and speak out when they don’t do the right thing. You can write letters to the editor; email, write, or call them; post about their actions on social media; or sometimes even make in-person or online “calls to the public”.
Except for running for office, the above actions are probably the bare minimum for one person to be able to affect any change. And of course, it will take many of us working together to really make a difference. Think Mothers Against Drunk Driving which “helped get over 1,000 new laws involving alcohol passed on both a local and national level, including laws regarding server liability, the setting up of sobriety checkpoints, and raising the minimum drinking age.”
With more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. in 2018 (one for every person with 67 million left over), change won’t happen overnight. But…could we at least start moving in the right direction? Even now, GOP lawmakers around the country continue to look for ways to make firearms even more accessible by arming teachers, allowing gun carry on campuses, limiting gun-free zones, removing background checks, and rolling back red-flag laws. The trend won’t reverse until these lawmakers are sent packing.
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2021 that showed “nearly three-quarters of Americans think that gun violence is a big or moderately big problem.” What we don’t all agree on, is how to fix it. That, however, is what we pay our lawmakers to figure out. To…wait for it…compromise to find the best possible solution not just for themselves, not for just their constituents, but for the whole damn country. THAT, my friends, is how we make America great again. Let’s start (today) holding them, and ourselves, accountable to do just that.