When Adam Lanza blasted round after round of high velocity bullets into the 26 victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, his demented actions touched off a national outrage and a call for stricter gun laws.
What was unexpected was the overwhelming number of Americans — not only on the grassroots level, but federal, state and local lawmakers — stepping up to have their voices heard. Included in that number are those who have noted that the national outrage was sparked by the deaths of mostly white children — not the almost daily shooting deaths of hundreds of young Black and Hispanic men, women and children from coast to coast.
“Those are the victims whose voices have gone unheard,” said Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Everyone is understandably angry and heartbroken over the mass murders at the Sandy Hook School, but since it happened, ten people were shot in Chicago. I think the timing to push for this will never be better. Let white America push through these laws, because God works in mysterious ways — and maybe the murders in Newtown, Connecticut are a message to white America that gun violence is not a Black American problem, but an American problem. It’s often said that when white America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia. White America has pneumonia now, but all of America will benefit from these senseless deaths in the form of stronger gun laws.”
Qayyum said the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords wasn’t enough; or the hundreds of courageous police officers, or the hundreds of young Black males who are gunned down in America’s cities everyday, or even the Black mothers and children caught in thugs’ crossfire. Mass shootings in movie theatres or shopping malls or college campuses or even high schools wasn’t enough bloodshed to produce the national outrage to spur the American people to finally say enough — the gun violence is going to stop.
Lanza, 20, who killed himself after murdering his mother, Nancy, and then 26 children and adults inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, used a semiautomatic .223 caliber assault rifle to kill his victims. Investigators said he carried several high-capacity clips for the military-grade weapon. Police also recovered a shotgun and two handguns at the scene.
Since the mass murders, federal, state and local lawmakers have seized the opportunity to not just talk about what has been termed “common sense gun laws,” but to do so with a sense of urgency, knowing that serious action has to be taken. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has promised to introduce a bill to reauthorize the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a President Bill Clinton era legislation that was allowed to lapse in 2004.
Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, president of Black Men at Penn, said that despite the continuing rising body count of Blacks and Hispanics due to gun violence; the inclusion of those deaths into the call for sensible gun laws didn’t register because it brings to the forefront issues about which America is not ready to have a meaningful discussion.
“Our nation prides itself on creating narratives or dialogs that are safe. The dialog of Black males being shot to death calls America to the carpet about white supremacy and racism and the way people of color have been treated in this nation. That’s a narrative America is not comfortable with,” Lassiter said. “Now, you take the massacres at Columbine, or Aurora and there is a ready dialog over the mental health issues of the white males who committed these crimes. But what about the mental health issues of Black males who have been abandoned by their fathers, or who suffered abuse and neglect while growing up and lack the coping skills needed to step beyond pulling out a gun to solve their problems? Those lives aren’t seen in the same light.”
Lawmakers have called for three major gun laws to be pushed to the front of the ongoing talks over the issue. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the need to strengthen the national background checking system and eliminate the loopholes, and enforcing stiffer penalties for straw purchasers. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama gave his administration a January deadline to create solid proposals to reduce gun violence. Tasking Vice President Joe Biden, who has long championed the cause for stronger gun laws, the president has ordered the creation of a special panel to spearhead the effort. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will be a part of that panel.
Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, who spent thirteen years on the bench trying murder cases, said she thinks Obama’s decision to have Ramsey on the panel is a brilliant move. Hughes, who is now CEO of the American Red Cross of Southeastern PA, spoke to the Tribune in her capacity as a former judge with the Court of Common Pleas, and a law professor who teaches at Drexel University and Villanova Law School.
“I think putting Commissioner Ramsey on the panel is a brilliant decision by President Obama and I am so grateful that he’s taking decisive action on this,” said Hughes who was appointed to the bench in 1995. “I have witnessed the devastation caused by assault weapons. I’ve seen the devastation caused by people who lack good judgment and use firearms to resolve conflicts. I founded Philadelphia’s Mental Health Court and I know the senselessness of gun violence. This is not about the right to bear arms, but the right of Americans to be safe — to not be afraid of people with mental health issues or other emotional issues with guns. I’ve seen what happens when our police officers are slaughtered and people are murdered because we did not have the backbone to stand up and say we do not need these weapons on our streets.”