by Timuel D. Black
Our holiday season this year was marred by the terrible event in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty babies and six teachers mowed down by a crazed young man with an assault rifle. Twenty lives erased before they had a chance to begin. Lives which may have held the key to curing disease, to international peace, to unimaginable achievement—never to be.
We’ll never know what they might have accomplished. The shooter also killed his own mother and ended by killing himself. All of this with guns belonging to his mother. Guns she had purchased supposedly for self-defense. A total of 28 lives gone.
And the lives of the other children in this school, and their families, and parents and kids everywhere, changed forever by trauma.
Easy access to guns made it all possible.
During the same holiday season just ending, the gun violence in our community went unabated even on Christmas Eve, with 4 shot here, 3 shot there. For 2012, we hit a record 506 gun deaths in Chicago.
On the very first day of 2013, we had 15 people shot in Chicago, 3 of them fatally.
But our deadly Chicago epidemic was barely noted, compared to the Newtown event. It hardly makes the local news, let alone capturing national attention. Chicago’s murderous year broke all records in terms of deaths by gun. Here too, we’ll never know the lost potential of those 506 Chicagoans—most of them very young adults and teens—killed by gun violence in 2012.
The majority of those killed by the gun violence in Chicago are poor, Black and brown, and mostly they are young men. A young man carrying a gun thinking it’s for protection, actually faces the greater chance of being killed by the gun, should he get into even a minor conflict. Things these days have a way of escalating.
The gun business is big business. U.S. gun manufacturers sell guns throughout the hemisphere. There are large cities in Mexico and on the US/Mexico border which have virtually become killing fields because of the gun and drug traffic. The two are inseparable. Where there’s a drug trade, there’s guns, and vice versa. And there’s murder.
In our big cities, the economic crisis has resulted in deep cutbacks to social services and mental health programs. Thus we have a lethal combination: Easy to get guns, harder to get mental health care. It only takes one unbalanced individual who isn’t getting proper care and treatment to get hold of a weapon and go on a rampage.
But of course, the fact is, most gun deaths do not occur in mass shootings. They occur in our homes.
Shocking but true: the majority of shooting deaths occur in the home-a whopping 83 percent of all persons who die by gunshot. If there’s a gun in the home, there’s a good chance that in a case of domestic violence, that gun may be used. A good chance that one family member will accidentally kill another family member mistaking him for a burglar, or even use it to commit suicide. A terrible chance that a child may find and accidentally discharge the gun, or even carry it out of the house, or to school.
There was a time that I myself considered owning a gun. Back when I was a young father, I briefly thought perhaps I need this protection for my home. But upon consideration, I realized that a lot of things could go terribly wrong, with my two curious, active kids running around the house. It would take just one unguarded moment for a calamity to take place.
This impulse to own a gun stemmed from my father’s experience from the racist South where I was born and where he felt the need to arm himself to protect his family from the horrific dangers Blacks faced there. In my neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, because of the unity of community there, that reality did not exist.
Every week we read in the papers about a child accidentally shooting himself or a brother or sister, while playing with a loaded gun left “hidden” by an adult. I realized my own momma would have come up out of her grave if I had been so foolish as to expose her grandchildren to the risk of a weapon in the house.
With a gun in the house, so many things can go wrong. Almost nothing can go “right.” A firearm in the home is a terrible accident waiting to happen. But it is a preventable accident.
We can work together in order to eradicate this menace:
We need to insist on Federal and local policy to remove guns from our communities—to make it difficult to own or purchase a gun, to make it impossible to possess or to purchase a military style weapon such as an assault rifle; and real enforcement of laws against trafficking in guns.
We need to insist on publicly funded mental health care for those in need—and we can start by restoring the community mental health programs which fell victim to budget cuts. We need more mental health care, not less.
With the escalation in gun violence, our children and youth are being traumatized on a daily basis. They need access to therapeutic care and to ongoing support in order to continue their educations and survive in stressful conditions. We should be augmenting clinics with outreach programs in schools to help our children not only to cope but to learn how to avoid violence, handle their own anger, and to de-escalate conflict.
Key to all of this is community and family commitment to nonviolence, starting with getting rid of the guns in our homes. This means turning them in, making sure that our children know these instruments of death are not part of our culture.
Let’s reinforce in our children the message of peace.
Let’s teach our children and each other to settle differences without weapons or words of violence. Let’s lead by example and use our words to make peace.
Let’s give this one big gift to ourselves and our children. Let’s get rid of the guns and put an end to the madness.
Let’s make and keep this New Year’s Resolution: Get rid of the guns.
Wishing us all Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Human Beings.