I remember thinking that when President Obama gave a speech just four days after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by an estranged gunman, our nation would finally wake up to all the nasty violence that plagues our country. A CONGRESSWOMAN WAS SHOT IN THE HEAD! But despite all of the pain our country felt during that time, it was revealed that Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter of Ms. Giffords, despite being mentally ill, was able to legally purchase a Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun that he used to killed six people, while injuring 13 others. So, we sort of felt helpless because the law was on his side to own a weapon. And one person who definitely felt helpless that day was 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was born on September 11, 2001 and was taken from us by a single bullet that was bought at Wal-Mart, where you can “save money” and “live better!”
I was convinced that this was the wake-up call to our fellow citizens that maybe there were some guns in America that were in the hands of the wrong people. But, unfortunately we hit the snooze button on our alarm and went back to sleep.
Then there was a 17-year-old young man walking home on early Sunday night, in a light rain, with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea in his hands. Never would he have thought that this night would be his last, because he left the TV on at his house … the flickering of the pre-game to the NBA All-Star extravaganza. But a guy who had called 911 forty six times in the last eighteen months would use his Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm semi-automatic pistol to put one bullet in the chest of Trayvon Martin to end his life.
If this is not the moment that we all stop pressing snooze on our alarm clocks and wake up to the fact that our gun use in this country is out of control, then I am not sure we ever will.
I grew up in a community in southeast Queens, New York where gun violence has become more common than a Run-DMC record on the radio in the ’80s. I read the news on GlobalGrind every morning and hear about little kids finding their parent’s guns under pillows and shooting themselves, by accident. I listened to the speeches at the National Rifle Association’s recent convention in St. Louis about how men need guns that can blow up buildings to kill animals that I will never eat. I see the front page of the papers and I am pained by the shootings of police officers by “hollow-head” bullets that can shoot through a metal door. I get emails from the anti-violence heroine Erica Ford listing the 32 incidents of gun violence in New York City in a 24 hour period this week. The alarm is going off at its highest volume, but somehow we are sleeping right through it.
The same weekend that Gabrielle Giffords was shot, 40 kids got shot in the city of Chicago alone, a great number of whom were totally innocent. We talked for a few days about the horrible tragedy in Tucson, but we never mentioned those kids in Chicago. We never mentioned all of the mothers of the young men and women who get killed everyday in cities and towns across this country … some kids who were just walking home from school or sometimes asleep in their beds. All of these beautiful parents want the violence to stop, and they know the only way for it to stop is to stop the spreading of guns in our communities.
We can use all the excuses we want or hide behind the words of an amendment that was written in the 18th century that references “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” as reasons for not doing anything about the disease that has infected our entire nation. This is not an issue of good people abusing the right to bear arms. This is an issue of too many guns that are too easily available that are killing too many people. I commend Bill Cosby’s assessment of the Trayvon Martin tragic situation as not just an issue about race, but really about guns. I agree with him and the work must start now.
I have supported efforts by New York City’s Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, to close the “gun show loophole,” which will requires background checks on guns that are being re-sold, because right now the seller is not required to do one (at gun shows). I support an end to “Stand Your Ground” laws in the twenty five states that have this law on the books. After reading about Bo Morrison’s tragic story in Wisconsin yesterday on GlobalGrind, I am convinced even more that we must END all of these wild west, shoot first promoting laws. I believe that we must make the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as it has not been in effect since 2004. I am inspired by the work of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and their efforts to create a mandate that requires all bullets to be micro-stamped, so we know where they were bought. These are all things that will move us in the right direction. A direction towards a more humane and less violent nation. A nation that will celebrate our young people, not bury them at an early age.
I am hopeful that this time, we may not sleep through the alarm. When Sybrina Fulton, the heroic mother of Trayvon Martin, sat in my office last week and shared her resilience and compassion with me, as painful as it might have to been to hear, I felt like this might be the final wake up call. Trayvon Martin didn’t just die because George Zimmerman thought he looked “suspicious.” Trayvon died because Zimmerman pulled the trigger of a gun. If George Zimmerman was not carrying a Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm semi-automatic pistol, Trayvon would have gotten to eat all of those Skittles and drink the entire can of iced tea. And his mother and father would not have to live through the worst nightmare that a parent can possibly imagine.
Hoodies Up. Guns down.