On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden says he will give President Barack Obama a list of recommendations to begin reducing the outrageous epidemic of gun violence plaguing the country. According to some reports, these ideas include a ban on assault rifles, universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and increased research on gun-related injuries/deaths, which emerged following his recent meetings with gun control advocates, civil rights groups, and families of victims. I was fortunate enough to be present at one such gathering last week.
Invited to the White House to participate in a meeting with the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force (set up by the President and chaired by the Vice President), I heard many of these recommendations first-hand and made some recommendations of my own. As one who has been on the forefront of this issue for several years as the national executive director of the National Action Network (NAN) and as a member of the City Council Task Force to Combat Gun Violence in N.Y., I can strongly assert that the Administration’s efforts are a step in the right direction…BUT we need a two-prong strategy.
Last summer, there were articles about Chicago being one of the deadliest cities in the world and the city’s homicide rates outnumbered U.S. troop killings in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. We continue to see dozens killed in one night alone on Chicago streets, and the problem is much more widespread than just the windy city itself. In urban areas around the country, we consistently witness unnecessary violence on a daily basis that is literally tearing families apart and ruining our future.
NAN, our leader Rev. Al Sharpton, and I unequivocally support a ban on assault weapons and seek an end to the background check loophole. Many of the victims and their relatives that NAN serves do as well.
But as many communities of color are facing a gun violence crisis that doesn’t stem from assault rifles, we have to also deal holistically with the root causes of violence in our neighborhoods.
Too often, we act like young people just pick up a gun and decide to shoot each other and innocent bystanders in the process. The problem is much deeper than that. We have to stop pretending that this violence isn’t a public health issue, and we have to stop acting like a lack of jobs/opportunities doesn’t contribute to the unrest.
We must fund developed programs that have a proven track record to get guns off of the street, but we must also continue to fund mental health resources in communities of color. When violence happens, many are affected and go through a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When someone loses a son/daughter or a mother/father, they need counseling, mentoring, and help.
When people are jobless for years or working multiple jobs on minimum pay and are still struggling to survive, they need someone to talk to. When young people see nothing but poverty and feel stuck, they need a sense of hope.
Well before the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, NAN led local and national campaigns against gun violence. But on that Friday morning when 20 babies and six adults lost their lives in an elementary school, everything stopped; the nation was virtually paralyzed watching the horror unfold.
That morning, I was reminded of another innocent baby whose life was violently taken this past summer: Lloyd Morgan Jr., just 4 years old, was gunned down by a stray bullet as he played outside near his home in the Bronx. Rev. Sharpton delivered the child’s eulogy and then called for four weekends of “Occupy the Corners.”
The image of poor Lloyd’s lifeless body in that coffin haunts me till this day.
Throughout the country, NAN has rallied, marched, and raised awareness on the growing surge of violence. We believe there’s no reason why someone can walk in to a school and shoot defenseless kids as if they were in battle. There’s no reason why a child at a playground should die from stray bullets. There’s no reason why kids in places like Chicago should have to dodge bullets on their way to school. There’s no reason why any of us should have to think twice about watching a movie, attending prayer service, shopping at the mall or walking down the street.
On Wednesday, we heard reports of a 92-year-old grandmother getting shot in the arm by a stray bullet on her way to a laundromat in Brooklyn. On Thursday, we read about another school shooting in California.
The madness must end.
NAN and people from state-to-state have been advocating for stiffer gun legislation for years, but now we have the momentum of the nation behind us. Let’s keep it going.