When are we as Americans going to deal squarely with our culture of violence? How many more mass shootings will it take? Kevin Powell's latest blog raises these questions, cites statistics, and calls for action, from us.
“Babies. He killed babies.” That was the text message that blasted its terror from my iPhone into the sudden numbness of my mind when I first learned of the terrible mass shooting at that Connecticut elementary school. Babies, as young as kindergarteners, murdered, just because they were there. Nearly 30 dead in total, 20 of them children. Babies, yes, babies who will never have children of their own. Also dead, too, the shooter’s mother (a teacher at the school), and the shooter, a man only 20-years-old, from a self-inflicted gun wound. Every single time I hear about a shooting, be it one-on-one in a ghetto or a mass shooting in a suburb I feel sick, very sick. And so profoundly sad.
How did we as a nation get to this? How are we able to be numb to the fact that approximately 9000 gun-related deaths happen every year in America? A number so great, as someone posted on my facebook wall, that if this total were in any country other than ours it would be considered a civil war. Or note that since guns killed Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, just two months apart in 1968, over one million Americans have died from gun violence. Indeed, among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids. Moreover, in our America, over one dozen guns are legally sold every minute of every day. That means there are almost 300 million privately owned guns in this country—that’s almost enough to arm every man, woman and child. But while there is a gun in four out of every 10 American homes, only a small percentage of owners have most of the weapons, with the average collection swelling in recent years to around seven guns per owner.
America, this is who we are, this is where we are, with no resolution or cease-fire in sight. Violence is as American as apple pie, the Super Bowl, rock and roll, hiphop, and the iPhone I am typing this blog on. It is deeply rooted in the history and psyche of our society and we cannot identify a single American generation that has not experienced the insanity of violence.
And, clearly, no one is immune from this national tragedy of endless gun violence. Not people in America’s ghettoes. Not people in America’s suburbs. Not Black people, not White people, not Latino people, not Asian people, not Native Americans, not straight people, not gay people, not any people, any faith, any region, any class, or any age. Not Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis, not those little children at that Connecticut school.
For we are a nation held hostage by gun violence. And we do not seem to know how to escape its wrath, even as it murders babies in run-down inner city tenements and babies in neatly manicured suburban schools.
This is an epidemic that we have on our hands. One that has plummeted so far out of control that we wrongly continue to see these as isolated incidents, or simplistically limit them to debates between gun control advocates and pro gun lobbyists.
Yes, I personally support much tighter gun restrictions. Enough of saying, after Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Aurora, and now after Connecticut, that it is too soon to discuss gun laws. It is actually too late, because yet more Americans are dead, senselessly. In this case, children…
Yes, I feel we need to think long and hard about why it is overwhelmingly American males who commit these shootings, these mass murders. There is something disturbingly wrong with how we define manhood in this country, how we boys and men are socialized. With how manhood is so invested in violence, anger, ego, competition, revenge, guns, murder.
And, yes, I feel we’ve got to, once and for all, have a national conversation on mental illness in our America. For only a seriously unstable human being would hoard guns, and use those guns on others. At a movie theater. On the mother of his child. At an elementary school. What are we not saying and doing for the male population in America where gun violence is the final solution for every single conflict, disturbance, dispute, or beef, be it real or imagined?
But I also believe that America needs to take a hard look at its soul. These mass shootings are piling up. They are happening at high schools, elementary schools, malls, places of work, college campuses, military bases. There is clearly no place called careful, no place to run and hide.
It means we’ve got to confront, head on, the culture of violence that pervades every aspect of our lives, from school textbooks to comic books and blockbuster movies, to our most popular sports and video games, to destructive and abusive domestic relationships, to the way we describe our day-to-day lives with the most aggressive language and imagery. To even the news media and what it chooses to report on a daily, and why.
You teach a people, any people, to be violent, that violence is the remedy for their hurts, wounds, gripes, problems, and they will resort to violence. Without a second thought, and especially, again, if there is a profound emotional and spiritual imbalance. And doubly so if guns are so readily available.
I heard President Barack Obama’s words and felt his tears, very sincerely, when he spoke about the Connecticut school shooting. However, as the leader of our country Mr. Obama must, sooner rather than later, use the full moral weight of his office, of his historical position, and demand we have that national conversation on violence that we’ve continually pushed to the background after a few sensationalistic news cycles have passed.
And we as Americans, from all backgrounds, all walks of life, must come together, and march on Washington, just as the National Rifle Association lobbyists do on a daily, just as we’ve done for other causes. We must come from every corner of our nation and demand massive changes to our America, to gun laws. We need those there who’ve been affected by gun violence in some way, and we need those there who do not want to see this spiral downward any further.
Because even our children are dying because of guns…
And we cannot wait any longer. Not for the sake of our America. Not for the sake of our children, both the ones gone, and the ones yet to be born.
Kevin Powell is an activist, public speaker, and author or editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Email him at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @kevin_powell