Ignoring the Glock In the Room

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A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)
[A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)]

Donald Trump and his buddy Jeff Sessions are at it again – taking aim at Chicago’s persistent problem with gun violence and coming up with all the wrong solutions.

Yesterday President Trump displayed his contempt for constitutional rights by declaring that the Chicago Police Department needs to institute a “stop and frisk” policy to stem the tide of gun homicides that has plagued the Second City for many years. Never mind that studies show such policies disproportionately target blacks and other minorities, especially in white neighborhoods. Never mind that a white Chicago police officer was just convicted of second degree murder for shooting a black suspect 16 times. The idea of giving police officers more license to confront people randomly  does not sit well with a community still reeling from the sight of that awful video and from the scandal of the city covering up that shooting.

Attorney General Sessions plans to make a statement opposing federal oversight of a sweeping police reform plan being proposed in Chicago. Sessions argues that the 2015 consent decree between the Chicago PD and the ACLU was responsible for an upsurge in homicides in 2016. The consent decree required documentation for every stop police made of a potential crime suspect.

But there is no evidence that the documentation burden on its own caused an upswing in violence. Furthermore, homicides increased in a number of U.S. cities in 2016. What is unique about Chicago is that “more homicides were committed with guns in Chicago than other cities.” (“Few answers as Chicago hit with worst violence in nearly 20 years,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 30, 2016)

Once again, our NRA-backed leaders leave out one of the most obvious issues when it comes to violence in Chicago: the proliferation of guns in our city. A lack of federal oversight and lax gun laws in the states surrounding Illinois make it far too easy to obtain guns, whether legally or illegally. The cost of an illegal firearm goes up dramatically when strict gun laws are in place. But Illinois’ relatively strict gun laws are meaningless when a gang member can make a 30 minute drive to Indiana to obtain a weapon.

Chicagoans are tired of being singled out by New Yorker Donald Trump for the rate of violent crime in our city, which isn’t even the highest in the country, contrary to popular belief. But what is really maddening is listening to our president propose wholesale violations of citizens’ rights instead of looking at one of the real solutions: making it harder to get a gun. Until we remove the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians and policy makers, gun violence will continue to plague our country, in Chicago and across the nation.

 

 

Walkout

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180221094543-parkland-other-schools-support-signs-super-teaseTomorrow students in many parts of the country will participate in a national walkout to protest the increase in school gun violence. The walkout is a response to the latest mass shooting to occur at a school: the Parkland, Florida, massacre that killed 17.

What is different about this movement is that it has been started by our children. In the aftermath of the shooting, students at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School held a rally where they spoke out about the epidemic of mass shootings. The public stance taken by these teenagers, many of whom were vilified and accused of being media plants, has inspired students across the nation to take a similar stand.

In my local high school district, there has been a great deal of angst about the district’s response to the planned walkout tomorrow. Parents, in particular, are incensed that the district is not supporting the students’ plan to leave the building for a 17 minute protest. We should be encouraging our children’s passion for an important cause, these parents feel. They worry about the possibility of negative consequences for their children in terms of school discipline.

I wonder, though, if that shouldn’t be the point of a walkout. If a walkout is a school-sanctioned activity, what is the actual meaning of it? If it costs nothing to go outside for 17 minutes and perhaps carry a poster or listen to a fellow student’s speech, why not just hold an in-school assembly on the issue of gun violence and making our schools safer?

In his podcast “Revisionist History,” Malcolm Gladwell makes this very point in reference to recent student efforts to force the administration at Yale University to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from school buildings, on the grounds that Wilson was an avowed racist who promoted racist policies as president. The students demanded action, yet they were not willing to refuse to attend a school that elevated a known racist.

That may sound like a drastic consequence, but it is only when people lay something on the line that their conviction speaks loudly and effects change. During the 1960s, college protesters braved not only disciplinary action in protesting the Vietnam War, they faced tear gas, arrest, and even, in some tragic cases, death for their convictions.

I’m not suggesting our children face riot police in order to make a point about school violence and the need to change our laws to make schools safer places. And I’m not opposed to school administrations that decide to allow or facilitate their students’ walkouts tomorrow. But I think children and their parents need to be willing to face opposition to stand up for their beliefs.

Whatever happens tomorrow at my daughter’s school and at schools across the country, I hope that the movement marks a turning point in our response to gun violence, not only at schools, but in all places in the U.S. And I hope that, whatever the consequence, my daughter learns something about individual and collective responsibility for making our world a better place.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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28058365_883296441852265_4748931391964434677_nYesterday, which happened to be both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a 19-year-old walked into his former high school and shot and killed 17 people, wounding numerous others, with an AR-15 assault rifle.

As I sit here calmly sipping coffee, dozens of family members are grappling with the unthinkable. Because a troubled teenager was able to get his hands on a semi-automatic version of a military style weapon, residents of Parkland, Florida, must face the reality of burying their children and other loved ones.

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. The Florida incident marks the 18th school shooting in less than two months in 2018. If the cause of all this death were anything but guns, legislators would already have passed numerous laws to safeguard the lives of the American people. Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York are considering a ban on Tide Pods because they look too much like candy, despite the fact that there were no fatalities reported last year from the ridiculous “Tide Pod Challenge” idiotic teens were participating in.

Suffice it to say, we have our priorities screwed up in this country.

Yesterday evening, it was standing room only at my church for the annual Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes. For some reason, Ash Wednesday services seem to be more well attended than any other events in the Catholic Church. The ashes are meant to represent both our mortality and our sinfulness – and to encourage repentance.

As a nation, we need to repent our inactivity in the face of evil. We need to atone for the countless preventable deaths due to gun violence.

The only way to effect common sense gun legislation is to elect local, state, and federal officials who are not beholden to the gun lobby. Decades ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving began an effective campaign to strengthen drunk driving laws and save lives. We need to join the Moms Demand[ing] Action for Gun Sense in America and fight for legislation that will protect us from this uniquely American scourge.

It’s the Guns, Stupid

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Police shooting blacks. Blacks shooting police. Terrorists shooting civilians. Children shooting their siblings, friends, parents, and each other. Husbands shooting their wives or entire families. Shootings precipitated by road rage, noise complaints, jealousy, unhappiness in the workplace. Accidental firings that kill or wound in shopping centers, medical offices etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the common denominator here.

Studies have shown that the more restrictions there are on the purchase of guns, the higher the street price goes up on illegal firearms. It’s Econ 101, the law of supply and demand. Similarly, there may be an occasional situation in which a law-abiding gun owner protects himself or someone else. But there are far more needless killings than there are heroic saves by gun-wielding civilians. If readers have facts to show otherwise, I’d truly like to see them in the comments section here.

You might argue that the situation with police officers shooting blacks does not apply, since police officers are allowed to carry firearms. But it’s not actually a given that cops should be allowed to carry guns routinely. In European countries such as England, Ireland, Iceland, and Norway, most police officers do not patrol with guns. Their feeling is that the presence of a gun creates provocation and engenders more gun violence.

I’m not advocating that the government take away Grandpa’s antique hunting rifle. I just see no need for the average citizen to own handguns or semi-automatic weapons. I get that some people just enjoy shooting. If so, have highly secure shooting ranges available and allow people to fire weapons at them – and then go home and leave the guns behind.

My readers may wonder when I am going to stop harping on the gun control issue. The answer is: when common sense gun laws help create a safer environment in this country for myself and my children.

 

Unforgotten in “Chiraq”

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The statues are eerily lifelike and fully dressed in the clothes young teens might wear. They hold backpacks and guitar cases, stand or sit in realistic poses. But they have no faces, just a blank hole where their heads should be. They are “Unforgotten,” an exhibit dotting the landscape of downtown Chicago.

Each statue represents a young person gunned down in Illinois in the recent past. Their purpose is to highlight the huge loss to our society caused by handgun violence. According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 400 people in Chicago were killed last year.

Such persistent, meaningless violence has led critics to dub the city “Chiraq,” a name that is causing some controversy. As Chicago rapper Aaron Pierce put it, “That name belittles our city, and I feel like it dehumanizes us.” Yet it is the name filmmaker Spike Lee has chosen for an upcoming movie.

Is it fair? Is Chicago a war zone? From the almost daily headlines, it would seem that there is a similarity between our city and a place where terrorism runs rampant. Yet statistically, violence in Chicago “has been on a steady decline since the early to mid-1990s.” (Chicago Tribune)

Perhaps it’s the prevalence of online sites, You Tube videos, and social media that have brought gun deaths to light more and more. More likely, though, it is the proliferation of handguns. According to Joseph Erbentraut in the Huffington Post, while the total number of homicides showed a modest decrease from 2013 to 2014, the number of shootings went up. As Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said with reference to the increase, “If these guys are throwing rocks at each other we wouldn’t have this problem.” (Erbentraut, Huff Post, 12/31/14)

Supporters of gun rights have been the winners in recent years in terms of the lax control on gun sales and the success of open carry laws. But Americans are fighting the trend. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization dedicated to stopping senseless gun violence, has been waging a battle in state houses across the country to gain common sense legislation controlling who has access to guns. They are also defeating open carry legislation, especially with regard to guns in schools.

It may be an uphill battle, but many people are saying, Enough is enough. On a recent sunny day, families and passersby wept as they gazed at the hollow statues posed in the St. James Cathedral Plaza in Chicago. It’s time to put a stop to the rampant gun violence in our city, retire the ugly title “Chiraq,” and make sure our children living and dead are “unforgotten.”