On June 19, 1993, my 19-year-old son was killed with a friend in a random act of gun violence. Chris and his friend were brutally slain by two juveniles who were under the influence of illegal drugs and looking for someone to carjack.
As a survivor, I am intimately familiar with the overwhelming awareness of sudden and traumatic loss, which has descended like a dark cloud over Aurora, Colorado.
In the coming weeks, the town will receive all the attention a nation can muster. But eventually the spotlight will dim, and the long and difficult work of healing their lives and mending their community must begin.
Ironically, the one of the largest mass shootings in recent US history occurred in a city named by Forbes Magazine in 2011 as the nation’s ninth safest place to live.
In the shooting’s wake
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, the issue of gun control is awakened like a sleeping giant. But if past is prologue, nothing will change following the theatre massacre in Colorado, which took the lives of 12 and injured 58.
In the coming days and weeks, the media will direct a predictable procession of pundits with the aim of illuminating the tragedy.
Gun policy advocates, lawmakers, and psychiatrists will be in demand, and contributions to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence will rise.
Poignant images on television and computer screens will fill countless news cycles. Criminologists will comment on the profile and mental state of the shooter, and soon his name will be etched forever on the wall of infamy.
President Obama travelled to Aurora on Sunday, just as President Clinton went to Columbine and President George W Bush visited Virginia Tech following the massacre on that campus. The president visited privately with the wounded and surviving family members before quoting Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
Although the president did not mention gun control, Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about it in a media briefing. “The president’s view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law,” he said. “And that’s his focus right now.”
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, there have been 60 mass shootings in the United States since the January 8, 2011, massacre in Tucson, Arizona.
No new legislation
Not one piece of legislation has passed in the wake of those shootings. In fact, earlier this year the National Rifle Association (NRA) attempted to weaken already permissive gun laws in Colorado, by backing a bill that would have eliminated the state’s background check system. The bill passed the Republican-controlled House, but stalled in the Senate, controlled by Democrats.
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The NRA opposes sensible gun laws. Criminal background checks, waiting periods, and bans on assault weapons are an abomination in their eyes. In 2010, the NRA’s clout was bolstered when the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the second amendment provides individuals with a fundamental right to bear arms that cannot be abridged by federal or state governments.
The NRA reports annual revenues exceeding $250m. They are masters at cashing in on fear and intolerance under the guise of protecting the right to bear arms. And their influence over gun policy is peerless. During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent more than $7.2m to primarily support Republican candidates and oppose Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.
They say guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But there can be no doubt that guns make killing throngs of people relatively easy.
The NRA also claims that the president wants to take away your guns. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In January 2010, the Brady Campaign gave President Obama a failing grade on gun laws. According to the report card: “President Obama signed legislation letting people carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked luggage on Amtrak trains, adopted the gun lobby’s empty rhetoric about just ‘enforcing the laws on the books’, muzzled Cabinet members who expressed any support for stronger gun laws and failed to appoint permanent leadership at the agency that polices the gun industry. This White House even voiced no objection to people carrying guns near presidential events.”
Preventing gun violence
Of course, no amount of legislation can prevent gun violence. With cash and the right connections, guns, like drugs, are readily available in most communities. Personal responsibility has an important role to play. Gratuitous violence in the media should not be ignored. If mental health services were as accessible as firearms, then we could all breathe easier.
Despite these challenges, there is a strong case to be made for reasonable gun laws. It is unfortunate that the NRA’s stranglehold on federal and state lawmakers prevents the conversation from taking place. Fear of being targeted by the NRA has silenced too many politicians who know in their hearts that gun control is a better way.
Although my prayers remain with the people of Aurora, I have come to understand that mass shootings are the ultimate and inevitable consequence of surrendering gun policy to the gun lobby. We need to stand up and declare that the end result is too high a price to pay. But for now, the awakened giant need only bide his time until he can close his eyes again in unconscious repose until the next massacre.
Joy Strickland is founder and CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence in Dallas, Texas, and author of Joy in the Morning – A Mother’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. She is an OpEd Project Public Voices fellow at Texas Woman’s University.