Have we finally had enough?
Unless something drastically changes, President Barack Obama's fourth visit since he was elected in 2008 to comfort families and loved ones of deceased gunshot victims, unfortunately, won't be his last.
While experts say the number of mass shootings has remained fairly stable at 20 per year over the last few decades, that figure is not very comforting to family members who suffer tragic losses due to gun violence.
In the midst of our national mourning of the death of 27 folks (20 of them small children) in Newtown, CT, another shooter opened fire at a crowded shopping mall in Newport Beach, CA, a few days later, firing off 50 rounds before being captured by police. In spite of what the experts tell us, these incidents certainly seem to be coming faster and faster.
Of all the industrialized nations of the world, America has the most deeply ingrained gun culture—a culture that manifests itself not only in seemingly random violence perpetrated by deranged young men, but also by trained police officers, such as the 13 who fired 137 rounds into a vehicle containing two unarmed individuals in East Cleveland, OH. In America — at least for some — firepower solves all problems.
And for those gun lovers who contend we really don't have a gun problem in this country (they persistently and loudly shout “guns don't kill people, people kill people”) consider what David Sessions recently wrote in The Daily Beast.
“In Britain in 2008, there were 39 gun murders; in the U.S. in 2009, there were 9,146—that's right, even adjusted for our larger population, the American rate is 47 times higher,” Sessions wrote.
“Japan's recent gun bans have virtually eliminated gun murder in their country. In our country, the states with the strictest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun crime.”
Yes, people kill people … but most effectively with guns.
Speaking to the nation after the Newtown tragedy, President Obama finally signaled a willingness to take on the strongest lobby in America, the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics,” he said. But this must be more than a notion.
To supporters of gun rights those were fighting words. They contend they have to stay armed to the teeth to fight off an imagined totalitarian government bent on taking away their rights, as if their assault weapons would be any match for the tanks and planes these mythical troops would employ. But maybe, just maybe, this time the American people have finally had enough.
Maybe 20 dead schoolchildren is the tipping point. Maybe Americans will finally become fed up with gun violence, even in inner-cities where youth of color kill each other at an alarming rate—with guns made plentiful by NRA lobbying efforts.
Changing the rhetoric from the right-wing mantra of “taking away our gun rights” to the more reasonable and accurate “enforcing firearms safety laws” would certainly help to begin to move the agenda forward. But we know it's going to take more than words.
Something as simple as storing the weapons in a gun safe, or using $15 trigger locks might have prevented the obviously sick young man from gaining access to the deadly tools of destruction, might have headed off the Newtown killings.
Additionally, we demand owners have insurance on vehicles (and even pit bulls). Why not on deadly weapons?
Even if the worm has turned, changing America's gun culture is not going to be a fast or easy accomplishment. But leadership on this issue has to start at the top.
The president has to use his bully pulpit to initiate and animate this conversation. And weak-kneed members of Congress have to somehow gain the backbone to stand up to the NRA, or face being turned out of office in the next election.
If any concern ever cried out for a single-issue politics solution, curbing gun violence is it.
When then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency he did it from Springfield IL, in honor of his political hero Abraham Lincoln. If Barack Obama truly aspires to the greatness of the 16th president of our nation then he's going to have to be willing to take on some of the same hatreds and intransigence that led to the Civil War.
But this time not over slavery, but the widespread possession of automatic weapons. Lincoln, in his Gettysburg address, left words Obama can use as he takes up this critical struggle: “…these dead [children] shall not have died in vain.”
Mansfield Frazier serves as the executive director of Neighborhood Solutions, Inc.in Cleveland.. His column can currently be seen weekly on CoolCleveland.com and The Cleveland Leader. He also occasionally contributes to The Daily Beast. Frazier is the co-publisher of Reentry Advocate, a magazine that currently goes into all Ohio prisons, select prisons in Michigan, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He welcomes reader comments.