“. . . our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America. . . [W]e are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses. . . We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”
President Barak Obama, October 1, 2015, in response to the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon
I feel anger; I am not numb. As a child of the 60’s, I want to picket the National Rifle Association’s offices, scale the ramparts to wave a banner emblazoned with “No More Guns!” and take to the streets to march alongside the majority of Americans, including the majority of responsible gun owners, who desperately want common sense gun safety laws.
Since the 1994 assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, Congress hasn’t enacted any major gun regulations. In the 1990s, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its research into gun-related deaths as a public health issue, conservatives added language to the appropriations bill reading: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” The principal author of that language, Arkansas Republican Jay Dickey, recently conceded that he has “regrets” over the policy that came to be known as the Dickey Amendment and believes the policy that bears his name should be fixed, if not scrapped altogether. Nonetheless, Republicans remain opposed to research related to gun deaths and public health, as well as any kind of sensible gun control laws, including a federal law requiring background checks on would-be gun buyers and a national registry of guns.
Why? Follow the money.
Having long ago departed from its original purpose as an organization for gun sports enthusiasts and hunters, the NRA is now a front for gun companies, receiving from them close to $100 million to market fear, generously donate to politicians willing to push their agenda, and run smear campaigns against those who do not.
The Umpqua Community College incident was the 264th mass shooting (defined as involving at least four people shot) in the U.S. this year. But this and other massacres account for a small fraction of gun deaths each year; most occur between people who know each other – family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. The United Nations has compiled data indicating that the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third place. Our gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries studied.
What we can do? The American Ethical Union belongs to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (http://csgv.org/). Its guiding principle is simple: “We believe that all Americans have a right to live in communities free from gun violence.” Its strategy involves 1) an aggressive approach with political advocacy, broadcasting via social media campaigns and hard-hitting TV, radio and print ads, a simple message: “The era of no accountability is over. If you do the NRA’s bidding and put our loved ones in the line of fire, we will educate your constituents about your record.”
2) building personal relationships with legislators and challenging them to become dedicated, long-term advocates for sensible gun laws; and 3) talking about the issue in terms of democratic values and using the term “insurrectionism” to describe the NRA’s treasonous interpretation of the Second Amendment.
As President Obama said in his speech, “We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.”
It is a political choice that we must make, and we must make it now.