We are a violent nation. A nation where far too many of us have worshiped at the alter of the God of Guns and the consequences of that worship, a culture steeped in violence, particularly violence blasted out of the barrel of a pistol, shotgun or rifle. We have a long and deadly history when it comes to firearms. But we need not be defined by our past. And there is no better time to begin unshackling ourselves from that past than today. But first, let us at least acknowledge those shackles.
It feels like every day we read about more gun shootings like this one at a community college in Kentucky:
Two people were killed and a third wounded when gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a community college in the eastern Kentucky mountains, authorities said.
Two people were being held, including the alleged shooter who opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol on Tuesday afternoon at the Hazard Community and Technical College, about 90 miles southeast of Lexington, police said.
This incident follows an earlier one at the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts in St. Louis in which a former student shot himself and a school administrator, though in that case both individuals were expected to survive.
A student with a violent past, a mental disability and a handgun wounded an official at the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts — where he had just lost financial aid — early Tuesday afternoon and then shot himself, officials said.Of course, it might just be that our national news media is paying more attention to gun violence since the infamous Newtown massacre. In the past, many stories of shootings simply were not reported outside the local area where they occurred. Gun violence was not a topic generally discussed by the national media, except in cases of mass killings such as those that occurred at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, for example.
Greg Elsenrath, the financial aid director at the downtown career college, and his attacker were both seriously hurt and taken to St. Louis University Medical Center for surgery. A police source identified the gunman as Sean Johnson, 34.
After those incidents, there was always a round of intense media scrutiny regarding our country's gun violence, but eventually the uproar would subside, and the subject would be ignored, again, at least by the journalists, television reporters and pundits. Most deadly gun incidents were ignored except for brief reports by local media outlets. Organized attempts by family members of victims and other activists to draw attention to America's deadly epidemic of gun violence drew little coverage. You know what I mean. Many of you undoubtedly have watched over the years brief televised reports of candlelight vigils for gun victims, or marches by local activists to try to bring awareness to the general public of the costs of gun violence in communities large and small around the country. Yet the efforts by these families and groups to keep the the memory of the victims alive and promote solutions to this epidemic were usually ignored. It remains, even now, a topic our news organizations would prefer to dismiss.
Despite 100,000 people on average killed or wounded by gun shootings each year, it's easy to see why most incidents never received national attention for our media. Research on gun violence was suppressed by Congress after a concerted lobbying effort by the NRA to terminate all government funded research by the CDC and other federal agencies on gun violence in the 1990's was extremely successful.
After the government largely withdrew from financing gun violence research, private foundations picked up some of the slack for a while, researchers say. But they didn’t come close to making up the difference. Today, Rosenberg said, there’s “substantially less money available for [gun-violence] research.”
In a sign of just how much juice gun groups now have at the CDC, the agency asks researchers to let it know any time they’re publishing something on firearms—then gives the NRA a heads up, The New York Times reported in 2011. [...]
It’s not just the CDC that’s been hamstrung by the gun lobby. In 2003, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, inserted an amendment into the law funding the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, restricting its ability to release firearms trace data.
The reason for the NRA's heavy handed assault on research by the CDC were two studies the agency had funded in the early nineties that demonstrated owning a gun did not make one safer. On the contrary, the research found that households in which guns were present were at far greater risk of gun deaths from homicide and suicide than households without guns.
Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counterproductive. Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home. [...]You can see why the NRA fought so vigorously to destroy all potential research on the risks that owning a gun creates after these studies were published. The whole basis of their argument was that owning a gun made you safer and saved lives. Any rigorous scientific research by public health professionals that countered their message about guns reducing the risk of violence could not be tolerated, n or allowed to continue. Any data that countered their argument for gun ownership as the most effective means of home protection had to be ruthlessly suppressed.
Despite the widely held belief that guns are effective for protection, our results suggest that they actually pose a substantial threat to members of the household. People who keep guns in their homes appear to be at greater risk of homicide in the home than people who do not. Most of this risk is due to a substantially greater risk of homicide at the hands of a family member or intimate acquaintance. We did not find evidence of a protective effect of keeping a gun in the home, even in the small subgroup of cases that involved forced entry.
And without such research, policy makers inclined to address the problem were often unable to gain much traction among the general public to counter the massive propaganda campaigns of gun lobbying organizations, such as the NRA. At a result, "policymakers find themselves hampered by a lack of objective, scientific information on one of the country’s major public health threats—one which costs the country 31,000 lives and an estimated $100 billion per year."
Perhaps, things will be different this time. Last night the parents of six year old Ben Wheeler, a victim of the Newtown massacre, made an impassioned plea on the Rachel Maddow Show that their son's death, and the deaths of the others murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, act as a catalyst for real reforms of our gun laws, and a public discussion on the real risks our gun culture poses to society. They spoke on behalf of a group of parents whose children were slaughtered last month, a group whose members have pledged themselves to ending gun violence.
Their stated hope is that we finally come to terms with the true costs in lives destroyed and ruined in order to limit, if not prevent, future incidents of gun violence. Despite their obvious grief over the loss of their youngest son, the Wheelers spoke out publicly about the group's mission. They both told Rachel that they want Ben's death, and the deaths of his teachers and schoolmates, to mean something more than just another statistic. You can watch the video of their interview with Ms. Maddow at this MsNBC link. If you are not moved by their words, I can only assume you have no heart, or your own prejudices and ideological beliefs blind you to our nation's too long ignored problem with guns.
A month after Ben and 19 of his first-grade classmates were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, his parents, David and Francine Wheeler, joined with families of the other victims to honor their children by launching the Sandy Hook Promise, a pledge to work to end gun violence.
“I love the idea that this group has put forward that Sandy Hook, and Newtown will be remembered not for the tragedy, but for what started here,” David Wheeler said in an interview with Rachel Maddow Monday.
Francine Wheeler, wearing a necklace filled with some of Ben’s ashes, said that her family had stayed away from news footage of the shooting and had not kept track of the legislative debate over gun control spurred by the tragedy. However, she said the time was right to have a discussion about common sense steps to prevent a similar atrocity from ever happening again.
“It’s really not about your party right now, I really feel like it’s about our children. So I would say that at this moment my gut’s telling me that we need to continue talking about the children,” she said.
The question all of us have to ask is whether we want our children's future to be the same as our past? A major component of any definition of the American dream, is that each generation works to create a society better than the previous one, a society that offers more opportunity, more justice, more happiness and less sorrow to our descendants than the one in which we lived our lives. Over the last two hundred plus years of this Republic, we have often failed to achieve that goal, but we have had victories as well. We have made progress in the areas of civil rights, equality, and the low cruelty of mean spirited ideologues. Once we were a nation that tolerated slavery, that turned a blind eye to lynchings and bigotry, that tolerated women being treated as chattels of their fathers, brothers and husbands, that ignored the plight of LGBT people. We have advanced as a nation, even if at times that advance was held back or even pushed down and suppressed.
Still, even in the face of a political movement dedicated to eliminating all the gains we have made over our nation's history, we continue to make strides to create "a more perfect union." Who would have believed same sex marriage was possible a scat two decades ago? Not I for one, yet today we are witnessing changes that no one imagined. It was the same in 1865 when slavery ended, and 1920 when the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, and 1933 when FDR confronted economic injustice and the "money power," and 1954 when Jim Crow lost the first of many battles in the Supreme Court, and 1970 when the environmental movement led to the creation of the EPA.
We have the opportunity now to reach for another such victory, one that would make the world our children inherit a little bit safer, a little bit less destructive, a little bit less likely to cut the lives of our children short as a result of our fascination with firearms. We've had this opportunity before - after Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and Aurora, and the after the myriad of other deaths and slaughters that are a direct consequence of our failure to live up to our highest ideals and principles. We have too often retreated in the face of the opposition of extremists, who continue to be relentless in their promotion of guns and a culture that nurtures hate, violence and opposition to reason. Let us retreat no more.