Last Friday 20 children aged six and seven were systematically executed by a young man, who has been politely defined as suffering from a personality disorder, but who in another time would simply have been referred to as a mad man. His baby-killing arsenal included a Glock 9-mm handgun, a Sig Sauer 9-mm handgun and a Bushmaster 223-cal semi-automatic rifle.
Our president brushing tears from his eyes, said, “The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids … They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”
“Our hearts are broken.”
The president wept.
We, as a nation, mourned.
But we as a nation have tolerated a country where gun-related homicide deaths are 20 times greater than any other Western nation. In the last 10 years, more than 140,000 human beings were victims of gun-related homicide, another 208,000 turned guns on themselves, and since 1968 — the year Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated — more than 1 million deaths in the United States were gun related, according to Children’s Defense Fund statistics.
So, we as a nation have mourned a million times over, wiped away torrents of tears — and have acted as if nothing can be done to stop the mayhem.
I am here to say something can be done – if we want it to be done.
Let me first wind the clock back to 1995, I helped oversee a project called the Minnesota Action Plan to End Gun Violence. We held forums all around Minnesota and talked to more than 500 adults and then an equal number of students at one junior and senior high school complex.
The most important lesson I learned is that a civil discussion can be held around gun violence related issues. People can advance meaningful ways to help reduce the gun violence. I also learned afterwards that the typical way the debate is framed now, whether intentionally or by happenstance, prevents viable solutions from occurring.
Here is an example of what I mean, which I have spoken of many times since. After the publication of the Minnesota Action Plan to End Gun Violence, I was invited to the local public television affiliate with about 100 other people who were working every day to end violence of all kinds. We were asked to sit stadium style before a panel addressing gun violence. It was the type of balanced panel we are all used to seeing. It included an anti-gun person, someone from the NRA, a politician from the far left, one from the far right and a mom whose son had been killed. Remember this is public broadcasting so the producers wanted it to be fair and balanced — for real. But it took about five minutes for the sides to dig into their positions. If you were watching from home on your TV, you would shake your head and say, this is impossible. You can never reach a middle ground, never do anything to end gun violence. The sides were too far apart.
However, if they had only turned the camera around 180 degrees, there were 100 people who spent every day of their lives trying to end violence. One told me he called himself a straw bearer. He knew he alone could not stop gun violence, but he could do his share, which would be the equivalent of throwing a straw on the camel’s back. If enough others did the same, if everyone threw a straw to end gun violence, then eventually the back of the camel of gun violence would be broken.
The take away: One of us alone, isolated from others probably can’t affect change. However, if we see ourselves as individual straw bearers for change and know others are doing the same, we can collectively accomplish a lot. We did so with drunk driving, we did so with seatbelts and auto safety, and we did so with cigarette smoking. We can do it with gun violence.
There will be push back from the manufacturers who make the baby killer weapons and their overtly and covertly paid minions. Change will not happen overnight, it will happen one straw carried by one straw bearer at a time. But eventually that camel’s back of violence will break and we collectively can take control of the gun violence that plagues every nook and cranny of American life.