It has been over 23 days since a twenty year old armed gunman shot twenty elementary school children and six of their teachers dead. Powered by a semi-automatic rifle, the same gun used in the Aurora, Colorado Theater shooting, this young man’s killing spree shot through the soul of our nation.
Upon deep reflection, we have wondered how do we stop the bleeding. Sadly, bullets have lethally pierced the bodies of over four hundred Americans since the tragedy at Newtown, ending the lives of more Americans everyday. In just the just the first nine hours of the new year, nine people were shot in Chicago and in the first seven hours, seven people were shot in New York City, with dozens of others becoming victims of senseless gun violence around the country as the clock slowly ticked.
In a recent poll, taken after the shootings in Newtown, only 54 percent of Americans believe in tougher gun control laws. Although this is the highest this number has been at in over a decade, it is still shockingly low. Knowing that Americans own more guns than any other country in the world (300 million), our leaders in Congress have been slow to respond to the mass shooting, many of whom fearful of losing their $2000 contribution from the National Rifle Association. President Obama has been compassionately vocal in his prayers and has shown a great desire to act swiftly, however it remains to be seen if he can even get the support from his own party to get anything done.
In the wake of the political cowardliness by most in Washington and with many Americans still clinging to their right to own weapons that are used on the battlefields of war and in first grade classrooms, it will take a different approach to end this madness. It will take a different approach to stop 35 Americans from being killed by a gun everyday and to stop 48,000 Americans from being killed by a gun over the next four years.
On Friday, I was invited to the White House to partake in a meeting with the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, set up by President Obama and chaired by Vice President Biden, where we discussed possible solutions to this national disaster. Although we all agree that more gun control is needed, I made a strong push for a holistic approach, so we not only focus on the gun, but we also focus on the potential shooter. I have heard numerous politicians, including Mayor Bloomberg, make a strong case for gun control. However, if we are to go beyond just band-aid solutions to a very, very deep wound, we must look at contributing factors that have created such a culture of violence, not just the weapons that carry out the intentions of their killers. I proposed to the following to the Task Force and I propose the following to my fellow citizens:
1. Pass Assault Weapons Ban (including the banning of high capacity magazines – over 10 rounds).
2. Pass the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would close the private-sale loophole that allows more than 40% of gun sales to go through without a background check.
3. End the “War on Drugs“: For forty years, we have waged war against our own people (blacks and Latinos), creating a school to prison pipeline that has destroyed the fabric of inner-city communities. By incarcerating millions of people, we have created a viscous cycle that has manufactured more hardened criminals and created more violent gangs with drugs as their main commerce. Additionally, we need to end police tactics like “Stop and Frisk” that assume that our young people are criminals before they commit any crime, thus angering a whole group of people before they even become of age.
4. Adequately fund mental health services and research.
5. Support and fund violence intervention and prevention programs in urban areas, i.e. I Love My Life, Cease Fire and Man Up.
6. Pass The Youth PROMISE Act, a bi-partisan youth violence, gang and delinquency prevention legislation. The Youth PROMISE Act is based on an extensive body of evidence demonstrating that effective community, health, and school-based programs and practices can effectively prevent and reduce violence, gang affiliation, and crime and increase rates of high school graduation.
7. Create dialogue with entertainment leaders about the glamorization of violence in our films, music and video games.Our nation was brought to its knees with the tragic deaths of Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin and Allison.
But as the prayers and condolences slowly fade away, it will be the a test of our moral character, as a people, to do everything in our power to make sure any children never meets a bullet again. We must usher in an America that will no longer be afraid to stand up to big corporate interests and lobbyists like the NRA, because six year old and seven year old children are not suppose to meet in heaven. Whether they are shot in drive-bys in Chicago or in school shootings in Connecticut, six and seven year old children are not suppose to die young.
If this time is really different, we will commit to building more playgrounds in schoolyards and no more playgrounds in the sky.