Leonard Pitts: Prayers aren’t enough for gun victims
On Nov. 19, less than a week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, my wife Carol and I were scheduled to leave for a Thanksgiving vacation in Madrid. “No, no, don’t go,” advised friends and family. Europe isn’t safe. It’s too dangerous.
Are they kidding? The most dangerous place in the world today is the United States. Think about it: A first-grade classroom. A college campus. A navy office building. A movie theater. A shopping center. A church. A women’s health clinic. And now a center for the developmentally disabled. All sites of mass shootings.
The latest, San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2, where 14 people were gunned down, another 17 wounded, at an office holiday party. According to Shootingtracker.com, that made the 354th mass shooting – defined as four or more dead or wounded – in the 334 days since Jan. 1, more than one a day. That’s on top of the 89 people killed by gun violence every day. And those mass shootings have occurred all over the country, in some 220 cities in 47 states. Is nowhere in America safe?
So once again we have to ask: What will it take? How many innocent people have to be killed? How many families destroyed? How many communities shattered? Before politicians have the guts to stand up to the NRA and adopt some tough, but common-sense, gun safety measures?
As President Obama noted in comments to CBS News immediately after news of the California shootings broke, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.” No other civilized nation on earth suffers from that same kind of repeated, senseless domestic terrorism. Why? Because no other civilized nation offers the same easy access to guns.
Every one of those shootings was different: different motives, targets and gunmen. But they all had one thing in common: guns, most often multiple guns, in the hands of people who should never have been able to buy a gun in the first place. But they were able to buy almost any kind of weapon they wanted because our gun laws are so weak. For starters, there’s no nationwide ban on assault weapons, and most states do not require background checks for guns bought at gun shows from private individuals or for online gun sales.
Imagine: Even people placed on the “no-fly list” because they’re suspected of terrorism can walk into a gun store today and legally walk out with a gun. Or get this: In anticipation of holiday shopping, Creditcards.com recently published a list of “10 Things You Can’t (Easily) Buy With a Credit Card,” everything from lottery tickets to lap dances. Guns are not on the list.
In a perfect world, what would follow news of the San Bernardino shooting would be a determination on the part of Congress to adopt new, commonsense gun safety measures, like universal background checks, supported by 93 percent of the American public. Instead, we got the usual dribble of pious political pronouncements. Speaker Paul Ryan called for a moment of silence before lighting the Capitol Christmas tree, while countless members of Congress tweeted out how they were keeping victims and families of San Bernardino in their “thoughts and prayers.”
What nonsense! Thanks to Igor Volsky of Think Progress for poking holes in such a phony display of concern. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted “The senseless loss of innocent life in #San Bernardino defies explanation. Our thoughts are w/ the victims & their families,” Volsky tweeted back: “NRA dumped $922K into McConnell’s re-elect bid, so when it comes to preventing gun violence all u get is this tweet.”
Sure, prayers are fine. But prayers aren’t enough. And prayers are no substitute for action: a point made dramatically by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL.) last Oct. 1. When news broke of a shooting on the campus of a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, then-Speaker John Boehner asked the House to observe a moment of silence – at the end of which Schakowsky shouted out: “Now, let’s do something!”
May that cry again echo through the Capitol building, this time with better results. Congress can’t continue to dance around or deny the real problem. We don’t need more moments of silence, more thoughts and prayers, more blabber about more money for mental health, or more praise of law enforcement officers. They’re all important. But what we really need is action.
Until we end the easy access to guns, no place in the United States is safe.