“In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” — Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present
The killing of six college students a week ago near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara has undoubtedly shaken many of us. Yet will we commit to bringing about change before inevitably moving on?
While trying to process this latest mass tragedy, I wondered what Zinn, the late activist and historian of people’s movements, would suggest. We could use some Zinn-like perspective now.
I won’t try to delve far into the embittered so-called debate regarding gun control. Misinformation continues to rage from the “firearms fanbase” to “soft liberals,” while everyday people, moms and dads from Newtown and other places try to move us towards common-gound approaches to reduce gun violence.
One thing Zinn would remind us it that it won’t be the politicians leading the nation to find solutions. It’s rarely worked that way.
On gun violence they’ve caved, dithered, and while there’s movement this week on securing background checks, in many states the pols have actually loosened gun restrictions since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
It will take those like Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was killed in Isla Vista, to inspire us. He led thousands of UCSB students gathered in a chant of “Not one more,” which spread like wildfire across social media for gun legislation. (#IslaVista #gunviolence #backgroundcheck #GUN SAFETY, etc)
“The problem with piecemeal legislation is it’s like building a car out of parts from different manufacturers, and expecting it to run effectively,” Martinez said in an interview Wednesday with The New York Times. “That’s not an effective way to approach such a complicated problem.”
This week, Congress took a symbolic step to fund a national background check system for gun sales.
The measure would provide $19.5 million in additional grant financing to help states submit records to a federal database aimed at preventing felons and the mentally ill from buying weapons. Important in one sense, yet that seems like peanuts scattered on the floor under the circus tent.
Still, police in California say 22-year-old Elliott Rodger purchased his guns legally, reportedly despite years of psychological therapy.
“Our national criminal background check system is only as good as the data you put in it, and right now all the information isn’t getting into the system,” the bill’s sponsors, led by House Democrat Mike Thompson, said after the vote. “When this happens, we can’t enforce the law, and criminals, domestic abusers, or dangerously mentally ill individuals who otherwise wouldn’t pass a background check can slip through the cracks and buy guns.”
Such holes in the system led to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre of 32 people.
Of course, there are no easy solutions. But hopefully we care enough to at least gather more facts, and begin or continue a dialogue with others, especially those who may disagree with us.
Here is one such resource, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
If you’re already inclined to take action in favor of meaningful background checks, here is a petition from the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
One more resource: this analysis last December by the NYT found that about two-thirds of 109 new state laws passed since Sandy Hook ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners.
In my hometown, a gun shop called “Outback Arms” opened a year or so ago. Maybe I’ll go in to check out what they think. Not to rant, but to listen first.
To bring about change, it will take another movement of the people.
Finally, consider these words from President Truman, who made his remarks when establishing a Committee on Civil Rights in 1946. (This comes from Zinn’s signature book, page 449.) The context, while different — after World War II, Truman acted to combat the hypocrisy and juxtaposition of heroic segregated black American troops returning to a racist homeland — may resonate:
“The United States is not so strong, the final triumph of the democratic ideal is not so inevitable that we can ignore what the world thinks of us or our record.”