“At this point, we’ve seen the adults are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is to keep us safe. So we’re done with going to them and asking for permission. At this point we’re just going to do what we have to.”
Can there be a more calmly damning, withering critique of the failure of American political institutions and the adults who run them to come to terms with the appalling gun violence in this country than that statement last week by 16-year-old Vikiana Petit-Homme, a junior at Boston Latin Academy in Massachusetts?
And the real goal of those advocating for stronger gun laws is to destroy ‘all individual freedoms’ in a stealthy legislative coup. One wonders whether LaPierre, shrewd as he is, actually believes this nonsense, or he is just tossing red meat out to the distinct minority of NRA fanatics who do.
Petit-Homme is one of many student leaders organizing a National School Walkout Day to protest gun violence on March 14. She was speaking to National Public Radio in response to scattered reports that school authorities from around the country would not tolerate any such activity and would initiate suspension proceedings against those taking part, potentially damaging their college prospects.
An example from Needville, Texas Superintendent Curtis Rhodes, who posted a warning on Facebook that specifically forbade demonstrations during school hours and promised three-day suspensions for those not taking heed, adding:
“Life is all about choices, and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter it if is one, fifty or five hundred students involved… and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline.”
Interestingly, the post was soon taken down and school officials declined further comment after a widespread public backlash. Among the respondents were some 250 colleges that included Harvard, MIT, Cornell, University of Florida, and Vanderbilt. All of them echoed sentiments along the lines expressed by Brandeis University Dean of Admissions Jennifer Walker:
“Having the bravery to stand up, to organize people, that takes a lot of courage and that is certainly something that I think would be applauded here. From a Brandeis perspective, I think speaking up and speaking out is a good fit for our campus culture.”
How the walkout and other student activism plays out on this issue remains to be seen, but let us consider for a few moments the point we have come to here in the United States, with its dismal recent history of gun violence.
Our record of 3.85 gun deaths per 100,000 population has us keeping company only with the likes of failing, war-torn or drug cartel states such as Yemen, Iraq, Venezuela and Colombia. No other modern industrialized nation comes even close, with Japan at 0.04, England 0.07, Germany 0.12, and our neighbor Canada at .48.
The common denominator in these countries is that gun purchases are slightly more burdensome than buying a car and obtaining a license to drive it, and military grade automatic weapons designed for mass slaughter of human beings—be they enemy soldiers, students, moviegoers, office workers or night club revelers—are not available to ordinary citizens.
Various proposed regulations have substantive data supporting their curbing of deaths by gun violence. And arguments in favor of those regulations have gotten exactly nowhere in Congress year after year, from one horrific mass shooting to the next (not to mention the steady drip of suicides and murder by firearms in this uniquely gun-saturated culture).
For politicians whose campaign war chests are regularly filled by the National Rifle Association (see figures below, from a recent New York Times report), even the most minor effort to stem the tide of gun deaths via common sense regulation is regarded as heresy. The slaughter of innocents and their freedom to go to class or the movies without being killed is as nothing compared to the “freedom” of others to easily obtain weapons of mass carnage.
So: can a righteous uprising of organized and determined students finally make the kind of difference that has eluded so many other earnest reform efforts in the past? These consistently failed measures have included such seemingly innocuous matters as universal background checks for gun buyers, and the ability to deny those on terrorist watch lists or those with a history of mental illness the legal right to buy weapons.
Notably, all these and virtually every other gun control measure has been shunned in recent years by the Republican Party, which has controlled the legislative and regulatory agenda and consistently blocks most every such proposal from even coming up for a vote. This despite the fact that the well-respected Pew Research Center indicated in June, 2017 that 84% of Americans support expanding background checks to include private firearm sales and purchases at gun shows. That figure even includes a majority of Republican respondents to the poll.
Other polls of NRA rank-and-file members themselves indicate some 70-80% support for universal background checks.
Given those realities, why have we seen zero progress on this issue amidst the bloodbaths of recent years? Why do the kids now have to be throwing themselves into a life-and-death issue that is the true province and responsibility of adults?
Two reasons, I think.
One, as is always worth examining in U.S. politics: campaign contributions, aka, “Follow the money.”
Here’s a list of the top 10 recipients in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of contributions from the NRA through the entirety of their political careers. To save repetitively listing this fact below, let it be noted that all of them are Republicans, and all responded with variations on how their “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims in Newtown, in San Bernardino, in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Parkland, and…whichever venue may next be in the sights of a troubled man with a penchant for violence and the means to easily obtain the weapons to carry out his grim task.
1. John McCain, AZ $7,740,521
2. Richard Burr, NC $6,986,620
3. Roy Blunt, MO $4,551,146
4. Thom Tillis, NC $4,418,012
5. Cory Gardner, CO $3,879,064
6. Marco Rubio, FL $3,303,355
7. Joni Ernst, IO $3,124,273
8. Rob Portman, OH $3,061,941
9. Todd Young, IN $2,896,732
10. Bill Cassidy LA $2,861,047
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
1. French Hill, AK $1,089,477
2. Ken Buck, CO $800,544
3. David Young IO $707,662
4. Mike Simpson, ID $385,73
5. Greg Gianforte, MT $344,630
6. Don Young, AK $245,720
7. Lloyd Smucker, PA $221,736
8. Bruce Poliquin, ME $201,398
9. Pete Sessions, TX $158,111
10. Barbara Comstock, VA $137,232
I will let those numbers speak for themselves with only these simple questions: Why is it permissible for lobbying groups to lavish huge amounts of cash on legislators who then vote on matters directly affecting the interests and success of the organization? Isn’t that somehow, in plain terms, just wrong?
In any case, let me now proffer a second, perhaps equally important reason for the intransigence of far too many politicians and gun rights advocates who continue to fight off every attempt at curtailing an absolutist view of the Second Amendment’s endorsement of a “well-regulated militia.”
The reason has to do with what can only be called a deep paranoia.
It is reflected in gun advocates’ oft-repeated fear that even the most benign regulations will land them on a slippery slope craftily designed to completely disarm every American gun owner and make guns of any type illegal for private citizens.
Here’s Wayne LaPierre, the powerful head of the NRA, sounding wholly unhinged last week in playing to these fears by accusing gun control advocates of far more sinister motives than merely Making America Safe Again:
“What they want are more restrictions on the law-abiding—think about that. Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free. They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of the family, the failure of America’s school systems and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI….It’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue. They care more about control. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.”
Oh, that’s right—the real reason 17 Parkland students died the other week is not because a troubled young man had easy access to an automatic rifle meant only for military use, but because schools, parents and the FBI were collectively negligent in protecting them.
And the real goal of those advocating for stronger gun laws is to destroy “all individual freedoms” in a stealthy legislative coup.
One wonders whether LaPierre, shrewd as he is, actually believes this nonsense, or he is just tossing red meat out to the distinct minority of NRA fanatics who do.
LaPierre’s spokesperson Dana Loesch wasn’t about to let the media off the hook either, delivering this gut punch to reporters everywhere:
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you…”
So there we have an additional racial component thrown into the mix: the media love to make hay out of tragedy, but being the racist institution it is, it doesn’t care a whit nor pay attention when crying black mothers mourn their dead children.
Neat little trick there, trying to split the natural constituency of all parents of slaughtered children into warring elements by playing the race card.
These outbursts are but tame examples of those pushing the false narrative of warring extremes in the gun control debate. The truth is that one side is pushing sensible regulations to reduce senseless deaths, while another side constantly mans the barricades against any regulation whatsoever.
No compromise and nothing but thoughts and prayers for those unfortunates who become collateral damage in the service of an absolute right to easily purchase weapons of any caliber and purpose.
The solution for all those dead kids in schools? Let’s “harden the target” by arming teachers who are prepared to engage in hallway shootouts.
Ditto, by that logic, for movie ushers and nightclub bouncers.
It can and does get worse, as in this post which led off the NRA’s Facebook page this past weekend:
So, Mr. Raso repeats the claim mentioned above that the hidden agenda of everyone favoring sensible gun regulations is to “ban every gun in America.”
The post picked up some serious steam that stood here Monday morning:
Impressive numbers, but let us note that last week’s letter from the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods indicating the national retail chain would no longer sell automatic weapons, high capacity magazines, nor guns to anyone under 21 years of age, had garnered the following:
Think people might be just a little bit engaged on this issue?
It has become a kind of cultural meme in recent years that liberals are elitists with their heads so far in the clouds that they never “listen” to the concerns and aspirations of just regular people in flyover country. Maybe so, though an effort to procure data on that matter would no doubt represent a social scientist’s nightmare.
But here’s what I do know from my own self and the selves of countless others who share my abhorrence at the easy availability of lethal weapons and the staunch defense mounted by those who think all gun laws are onerous impingements on their Second Amendment rights.
Dear U.S. Navy SEAL Dom Raso: I do not want to disarm you.
I want you to have the freedom to keep guns for self-protection, for hunting, for shooting at old cans out in the desert.
I have no designs on a dictatorship of liberals.
I do not want to eliminate the Second Amendment.
I do not want to eliminate “all individual freedoms.”
If you and Mr. LaPierre actually believe that, then you are not listening to me.
Or you believe I have hidden motives, or am a dupe for more sinister forces.
Mr. Raso, I have no hidden motives and I am not a dupe.
I just love the lives of children and all innocents more than I do anyone’s “right” to buy any gun, of any lethal force, anytime, without any background checks or other regulation that might help reduce the heartbreak and shattered lives that are threatening to turn our country into a permanent domestic war zone.
And if you won’t listen to me, try listening to the kids. You and all your guns are not protecting them, and neither am I. We should both feel badly enough about that to try something different, at long last.
Living in hope with Bob Dylan…
Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: email@example.com
Bill of Rights photo in public domain
Minneapolis protest photo by Fibonacci Blue, Minnesota https://www.flickr.com/photos/fibonacciblue
I’m hoping that the young people’s determination will not wane, and that the media continues to cover the story. As we have seen, the “news cycle” is very short (see DACA, for example). However, the women’s anti-harassment movement and anti-Trump activities are continuing to be sustained in the press. And, the Russian investigation is not going away! March 14 is going to be very interesting.
And another piece of music to wake us all up:
Okay, Angela, I am trying to talk myself down from the ledge, and went back to find another song Cheryl Wheeler wrote about guns as well. You have to smile.
I fully agree with Gerry that a prolonged, sustained effort by young people (and others) is critical; and the message that the issue is not 2nd Amendment repeal or repeal/regulation of other rights. The focus must be on military-style weapons and background checks. Just keep pounding the theme. Bill Maher said recently in his monologue, “hey Republicans, you feared a President who would violate your rights and come get your guns; well, you got him and he is the MF you elected! (this, after Trump suggested taking the guy first and then proceed with due process). Of course POTUS has since met with NRA folks an has backed away. He will not be happy with the march later this month. Just keep hammering him and others.
Gerry, I just this morning saw “DACA” crawl across my screen and thought, “Oh yeah, poor DACA—swallowed whole by Parkland, Russia (again), tariffs, and all the rest of the Trumpian chaos. So much depends on whether the kids are in it for the first big initial push and then the long haul, too, because that it will likely be. It’s just sad we need to leave it and so much else to them as our best hope for true change. “Here, have our multi-trillions of debt, and as a token of our thanks, we’re going to arm your history teacher.”
Angela: Wow! Completely unfamiliar with that song, but it drives a hard rhythmic and thematic punch, just splendid. Taken literally, it of course reinforces gun fanatics’ paranoia that we really are after their guns, but she’s an artist and gets a lot of leeway in not being taken literally and over-emphasizing to make a point. Wayne LaPierre, no artist, doesn’t get the same slack.
Jay, keeping it simple on those key points is it, yup. We have to forever discredit the false narrative that outlawing military weapons and insisting on background checks represents some kind of anti-gun extremism. I mean really, if everyone has a right to an assault rifle, why not hand grenades or flamethrowers or ICBMs too? How else are you going to fight for your freedom when government storm troopers come knocking?
Thank you for this, Andrew. I feel hopeful *now* that the students are in it. We need their help. The Selma march for voting rights in 1965 went on for a long time, and only really *took hold* when the students and their *teachers* walked out of the school and joined the march. Literally physically joined the March. Then it wasn’t about “outside agitators” or “liberals.” It was about US and OUR town. I heard the principal of the Selma high school speak about that – he – Frederick Reese, is now Minister at the Brown Chapel in Selma, where it all started. I heard him speak about this in Selma. So this is a huge potential tipping point.
And, just because it is how I tick, I need to add this: Your statement “and…whichever venue may next be in the sights of a troubled man..” – I need to add “a troubled WHITE man.” Because if indeed these mass shootings had been by BLACK men?? We would have gun control passed in a flash. Imagine it.
Great point about the race issue, Jeanette. Hadn’t even thought of it, but these episodes mostly do involve angry troubled white men, don’t they? (San Bernardino shooters excepted…and I think it involved the only female in memory as well, so that was a true outlier.) Would be interesting to play out one of those Twilight Zone alternate reality plots and see how this issue would have been dealt with over the years if it really was virtually all black men as shooters. AND the difference between black men shooting other blacks vs. black men shooting only whites. The mind reels, but one thing I do know is that it would all look and sound very, very different than it does now. Thanks for this!
It is amazing what we “normalize” – think of what people think of as “terrorism.” And what we are willing to do to “fight it” – curtail human rights, go to war, send young people to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet more people have died from gun violence by far, perpetrated by men, mostly young white men when it comes to mass kilings. Yet the country and the weak-a**ed pols won’t lift a finger or spend a dime to address it. I am in a ranting mood, I’d better stop!
Oh please do keep on, Jeanette, ranting is good for both you and the planet….
I’m thinking how much psychology and tribalism (and the psychology of tribalism) enter into these distinctions between various kinds of deaths, murders and atrocities. Someone else pointed out to me privately that suicides by gun far outpace deaths in mass shootings, but the specter of a lonely depressed person blowing his/her brains out doesn’t pierce us in any way close to how schoolchildren being gunned down in hallways does.
So we lose some 3,000 people in 9-11 and then go on a crusade that costs us exponentially more than that in lives and treasure (not to mention the death toll among innocent Iraqi citizens), but somehow it seems necessary, important, justifiable—no matter how irrational it truly is. We’ve been done a grievous wrong, and revenge, geopolitics, domestic politics, and some inchoate longing to bring perpetrators to justice makes us (humans in general; I’m not limiting this to the U.S.) willing to go to the ends of the earth to accomplish it. Even if those ends of the earth are littered with bodies and burnt mountains of money that could have been put to all manner of humanitarian use.
All of which is to affirm we are an often inscrutable, inexplicable, contradictory, nonsensical and colossal mess as a species, but we knew that already, didn’t we?
You help me to remember that I sort-of know this, and to do so with an open heart when I can. Thank you for that.
It is no wonder that the children of today have fear when they hear of another mass shooting and yes more back round checks need to be done, but what the media fails to point out is how many lives guns save daily. Why do you never see that on the news? Yes children can have a voice, but to let these walks-outs happen on school time is just plain wrong. If the kids want to protest, let them do that when school has ended for the day. Just my two cents worth…
Thanks for those two cents, Lisa, much appreciate you sharing them, and now I’m gonna raise you two!
Sure, guns wielded in self-defense save lives in certain situations, and I am not advocating for taking the right to bear them away from sane, law-abiding citizens. But the data on gun deaths via violence are just staggering, and there is simply no equivalence between that and the occasional successful use of a gun in a private citizen’s hands to save a life. We are swimming in a sea of guns used for nefarious purposes, and our death-by-gun rates reflect that in near perfect correlation, especially when compared to every other industrialized country. A number to chew on, from a report in “The Guardian” last fall:
“Since 1968, when these figures were first collected, there have been 1,516,863 gun-related deaths on US territory. Since the founding of the United States, there have been 1,396,733 war deaths. That figure includes American lives lost in the revolutionary war, the Mexican war, the civil war (Union and Confederate, estimate), the Spanish-American war, the first world war, the second world war, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, the Afghanistan war, the Iraq war, as well as other conflicts, including in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia and Haiti.”
Pretty damning data, wouldn’t you say? The most recent 50 years of gun deaths outdoing all the wars since 1776—yikes!
As for when the kids should rightly protest, I’d only say that were it to occur after school, it would garner far less attention and have much reduced impact than their taking the school hours to stage a dramatic, and yes, rebellious walkout. It’s the best kind of media stunt, when more eyes of the world are watching, but it has dead-serious intent. These kids are making a statement about their very lives, Lisa: that we are not doing nearly enough to protect them, and like that guy in “Network,” they’re “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.” I’m with them 100%, and would be ditching history class as well if I were 17 years old again. As it is, I’ll be ditching work and doing everything I can to support them.
Sadly abortion stats far outweigh anything to do with guns.
I also sadly heard today that in just California there are 1,000 abortions a month. 12,000 abortions a year just in California. :-(
I wrote this poem (too long perhaps) on gun violence in schools.
“It’s Gonna Take More Than a Prayer”
By Bob Spencer
Bullets sliced through the sticky Austin air,
Beneath its Tower blood stained the grass red,
Seventeen killed in that senseless nightmare,
Its bells knelled a somber dirge to the dead.
Vile laughter rose from a beauty school room,
Faces down like spokes in a wheel’s frame,
He even shot one’s three-month old daughter,
“I just wanted to get myself a name.”
Disneyland’s joy muffled the slaughter,
At Cal State Fullerton the rampage began,
In the basement library the bodies were found,
Seven lives lost in a five-minute span.
But it doesn’t end there.
It’s gonna take more than a prayer.
Cleveland School’s playground strewn with shells,
106 rounds in less than three minutes,
The tragic irony in this bloody ordeal,
most died to escape the Killing Fields.
Iowa University’s stillness shattered like glass,
he butchered six in a gunfire swell,
striking quickly like a common death adder,
poisoning plasma, the fourth state of matter.
At Lindhurst High a 16-year old boy fell
pushing a girl from the line of fire,
No one so young need die like a martyr.
Pearl High School’s scene was nothing new,
Wrath wrapped its trench coat over the rifle,
“Throughout my life I was ridiculed and beaten,
Can you blame me for what I do?”
But it doesn’t end there.
It’s gonna take more than a prayer.
At Heath High school in rural Kentucky,
Three silenced by echoes of Mortal Kombat,
Dropping his gun, he fell to one knee,
”Kill me, please. I can’t believe I did that.”
The gray, granite Rockies shadowed the spree,
Snowy peaks melted into a ghoulish gloom,
Columbine’s quiet crushed by Doom devotees,
17 students slain on that Spring afternoon.
Nine weapons stolen from a grandfather’s house,
Fire alarm peals launched the death march,
A Jekyll and Hyde sniper lay in wait,
Five perished in the hands of hatred roused.
Thurston High’s young innocence stifled,
Two dead and 25 wounded in seconds time,
Two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle,
All synched to the rhythm of ammo chimes.
But it doesn’t end there.
It’s gonna take more than a prayer.
On the Ojibwe Reservation rose his evil quest,
Why did Red Lake High’s death toll reach ten?
A Glock and shotgun and bullet proof vest.
At West Nickle Mines School amidst Amish amens,
Five girls executed in front of a chalkboard,
Their blood sprayed the desks crimson,
erasing their simple life on a blackened floor
With “cancer in his head and terror his heart.”
His cold soul crawled across Virginia Tech’s grounds,
Semi-automatic handguns rocked the school to its core,
32 buried by 19 magazines and 400 rounds,
His sister wrote, “He has made the world weep.”
An assault rifle image across a black shirt,
tore Northern Illinois University apart,
After the carnage six bodies lay inert,
Shotgun in guitar case his Valentine’s Day card.
But it doesn’t end there.
It’s gonna take more than a prayer.
At a Korean Christian college insanity reigned,
Rained bullets upon a classroom of nurses,
Seven souls ascended to heaven’s domain.
But nothing shook the country like Sandy Hook’s curse,
His Bushmaster XM15 sprayed death through two rooms,
The walls, desks and sinks splattered in red,
The smiles lost day were barely six years from womb,
“Mommy, I’m okay, but all my friends are dead.”
At Umpqua Community College ten lives effaced,
Six weapons and a flak jacket he owned,
All purchased legally, a practice bemoaned.
But it doesn’t end there.
It’s gonna take more than a prayer.
Benton, Grayson and Greenville heard shots,
Aztec, Baton Rouge, and Savannah, too,
A coffin and a hearse–all is for naught.
If in the wake of mass shootings nothing ensues.
Perhaps the 17 dead at Parkland’s High School,
Will rise up and shout, “Enough is Enough!”
And join hands with the living and chant,
“Let common sense rule!”
“People, not guns, kill” we must recant,
Then, and only then, can we end this despair,
But, remember, it’s gonna take more than a prayer.