By John A. Calhoun
This week, our nation added Orlando to the roll-call of cities mourning the deaths of those who had no reason to die.
They died because of our immorally irresponsible policies that allow anyone – anyone including those on terrorist watch lists, those convicted of hate crimes, and of domestic violence – to walk into a gun store to buy an assault weapon that can spit out hundreds of bullets in seconds.
Authorities and the media are trying to understand whether terrorism, mental instability, homophobia or a combination spurred Omar Mateen to slaughter 49 people and wound 53 others. We’ll never know exactly why or what finally tipped the scale. But there is one thing we know for certain, one unassailable fact: anyone, anyone – whether a recently-fired employee, an abusing spouse, a bullied teenager or an ISIS convert – can walk through a gun store door and emerge with a weapon fit only for war.
The issue is not what’s in a head or heart: it’s what in the hand. Who has ever heard of a mass knifing?
Writing at The Crime Report, David J. Krajicek reports on a growing backlash against politicians who tweeted” #thoughtsandprayers” for the Orlando victims. Krajicek quotes U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and the brave men and women who risked their lives to save others.” Igor Volsky, deputy director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, responded to Johnson’s tweet noting that “Johnson accepted $1.3 million from gun rights groups so all you’ll get are his thoughts and prayers.”
If there are no safe places – schools, churches, movie theaters, businesses, places of entertainment – then we must realize that our irresponsible policies create two victims: both innocent lives, and our civil society, the tearing apart of civic bonds of trust.
I served as president and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council for 20 years. In the year 2000 in “Crime Prevention in the New Millennium,” I wrote this: “It is absolutely obscene that this country loses an estimated 35,000 people a year to gun-related violence…these numbers don’t encompass the hundreds of thousands who are wounded but not killed each year, nor do they reflect the billions in lost productivity, medical expenses and other costs that burden all of us through higher taxes, increased insurance costs and restricted public services.”
The NRA and its adherents characterize the assault weapons ban and background checks as radical. It was the law until 2004. In the same publication, I quoted the following from Business Week in its August 16, 1999 issue: “It is also vital to crack down on the handful of gun dealers who time and again provide weapons to criminals…There is no rational reason for any individual to possess an assault weapon. There is no reason why extremists should determine government gun policies that threaten the lives of innocent people. It is time for serious gun control.” This from Business Week!
Congress has observed a moment of silence. It is more than a moment. It is 12 years of outrageous silence and moral cowardice. The bill banning assault weapons on the civilian market expired in 2004. Congress failed to pass a new assault weapons ban, a high-capacity magazine ban, and a bill to require background checks on all gun sales. Congress’ failure armed America – and terrorists.
Will Congress act this time, this time after Orlando? Is it finally, “Enough,” that single word headlining the New York Times lead editorial on June 14?
Remember, if we don’t act, if we offer only prayers, we are as complicit as Congress. Know that many options for citizen action exist, among them:
• Calling the U.S. Capitol Hotline (202-224-3121) to support: S. 551/HR 1076 which would ban the sale of guns to those on the terrorist watch list; S. 2934/HR 3411 which would require background checks on all private firearm sales; HR 4269 which would renew and strengthen the federal assault weapons ban.
• Joining and supporting a local gun violence prevention group such as “Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence” (see concernedcitizensva.org).
• Donating to politicians on the state and federal levels who make sensible gun laws a priority.
• Participating in vigils in front of gun stores and companies that sell guns.
Add your name to the roll-call of citizens who stood up, who acted, who said, “enough.”
John Calhoun is president and CEO of Hope Matters.