It’s finally May, thank God. April is always a hard month for me. It starts with April 4th, the anniversary date of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. That date always brings me to somber reflection of the challenges we still face despite Rev. King’s sacrificed life.
This April 2019, there are too many stories and other anniversaries of tragic deaths, most of them by the gun. America is among the most deadly countries in the world when it comes to gun violence. In fact, America’s gun-related murder rate is the highest in the developed world, excluding Mexico.
According to one 2012 study, Americans own at least 270 million guns. The second gun-ranking country, India, a country over three times our population, only has 46 million guns. And, the vast majority of the world’s countries have fewer than 10 million privately-owned guns. This disparity is based on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The devastation to our country because of this law should compel us to take bold action to address our national crisis.
Everyday Gun Violence
An end to gun violence in America cannot come too soon for Black and Brown communities, women or children. Too many lives are lost, not just in schools, but in our homes or in the streets. There are so many preventable deaths that only happen because there is a gun available. In fact, there are always way more gun suicides than gun homicides in America. In 2016, 22,938 people committed suicide with a gun, while 14,415 people died in gun homicides. In 2012, 64% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides.
Guns are easily purchased or traded in the streets everywhere. These guns do not show up in surveys. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010, African Americans were 55% of the victims of gun homicides, whites were 25%, and Hispanics were 17%. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1980 to 2008, 84% of white homicide victims were killed by another white person and 93% of Black homicide victims were killed by another Black person.
The fact of random violence was painfully brought home to Oakland again on March 10, 2019, when we lost Victor McElhaney. Victor was a son of Oakland killed in a senseless act of gun violence in Los Angeles. Heartbroken family and friends in Los Angeles and Oakland will forever be linked through the loss and legacy of Victor McElhaney.
In the same month, Los Angeles lost the visionary brilliance of its native son, Nipsy Hussle. Hussle, a former gang member, wanted to focus on “giving solutions and inspiration” to young black men like him. He spoke openly about his experiences with gang culture, and denounced gun violence through his music, influence and community work. On March 31, 2019, Nipsy was shot 6 times and killed by another Black man.
Women And Children are Not Safe
A recent study found that “intimate partner homicides ― when a person murders their spouse or romantic partner ― increased each year between 2014 and 2017.” The reason: guns. The study found that since 2010, intimate partner homicides by gun increased 26% while the murder of women by other means has decreased. According to one estimate, a woman is fatally shot by her boyfriend, husband or ex every 16 hours.
Then, there are the guns legally owned and accidentally used to kill or maim someone. On April 11, 2019, 6-year old Millie Drew Kelly died after her 4-year-old brother accidentally shot her in the head. This kind of tragedy is a recurring event in America. In December 2018, a 6-year-old girl in Missouri died after she was accidentally shot in the head by her 12-year-old brother. October 2018, in Virginia, a 7-year-old boy found his grandfather’s gun and accidentally shot his 5-year-old sister. March 2018 – an 8-year-old in Ohio loads a .22-caliber rifle and opens fire on his 4-year old sister. She miraculously survived.
The Mass Shootings
The face of death by gun knows no boundaries of age, race, sex or religion. Most of the time we hear of a mass shooting, we see the perpetrator is a young white male. Our senses have been shocked over and over again since the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999. Over the last 20 years, we have watched this type of random mass shooting increase in frequency. The number of lives lost in each incident is completely unpredictable.
A gunman kills 32 people and wounds 17 at Virginia Tech State University in April 2007. Twenty-seven people – including 20 six and seven year olds – are murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. Another gunman kills 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in June 2016. Fifty-eight people die by the gun at a concert on the Las Vegas strip in October 2017.
We have also seen the rise of racially motivated gun attacks on churches. In June 2015, a white man wanting to start “a race war” kills 9 Black people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina. In October 2018, a man expressing hatred for Jews kills 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Courageous Young Ones
Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2018, a gunman kills 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This one woke up young people across the country. #EnoughIsEnough. Since then, they are organizing state-by-state to challenge America’s gun laws. They took on the National Rifle Association (NRA) with fierce energy. Their attack on the influence of the NRA in the political and media world has left that organization reeling.
Watching the young activists who survived the Parkland massacre step up last year and demand an end to gun violence in America was inspiring. These young people are outraged and insulted by the excuses people make for gun violence. They courageously rejected the stupidest idea that we should arm teachers as a solution to the problem. They have been uncompromising in their insistence that we stop the violence now.
What Are We Doing About This?
In Oakland, we have a new Department of Violence Prevention. It is a small effort – a start – to tackle a huge problem in our City. It needs funding and leadership – two things in scarcity in our City administration in this season. Ironically, Councilmember Lynette McElhaney spearheaded the effort to create this Department. She is one of millions of Americans who have buried their children and loved ones long before their time.
For more than 20 years, Congress prohibited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from conducting any research on gun violence in America. It was NRA pressure that led to the restriction on research. The CDC interpreted the ban to include all research on gun violence prevention, and so has not funded any research on this subject since 1996.
On April 29, 2019, however, a Congressional committee allocated $50 million dollars to study ways to prevent gun violence, giving $25 million to the CDC. It seems that if our children are not afraid of the NRA, maybe the politicians will finally stand up to the NRA as well. Based on what I’ve written, you know we don’t really need another study. We need action. The battle lines are drawn. Our future depends on the fight. We can only hope that the power and resilience of today’s young people will lead us to do what is absolutely necessary for all of us. Stop the violence now.