Thursday, February 15, 2018

"If I don't make it, I love you"

A parent in Florida yesterday got the text message no parent ever wants to get: “If I don’t make it, I love you.”

I saw these words in a newspaper story this morning. At the safety of my dining room table, drinking a cup of coffee, they hit me like a kick to the stomach. Imagine how they hit the mom who actually received that text.

Her daughter did indeed make it. But 17 other people did not. They went to school yesterday as students and teachers and they left school in body bags as grim statistics.

How many times will we have to go through this same scenario before we as a country of voters exert our will and force somebody to do something about this? Which gun massacre will be the one that makes us all stop wringing our hands and offering our thoughts and prayers and writing impassioned letters to the editor about guns and instead band together, raise our voices, and use the one real power we do have.

We can vote.

And we can overwhelm anyone running for office at any level with demands that they work to get a grip on gun violence in our schools, in our towns, in our cities, in our counties, in our states, and in our country.

No single law or policy will end this uniquely American epidemic. It is going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of focus at each of the levels listed—from the hyper-local to the national; from the local school board to the House, Senate, and Presidency.

I sometimes ridicule single-interest voters who hold candidates to purity tests on a single issue. But I think nothing in this gun-loving, violence-worshiping country will change until enough of us become single-issue voters and force the issue.

You might think I hate guns and want to take them all away. That would be an incorrect assumption. I believe the Second Amendment gives law-abiding citizens the right to own guns and I do not want them all taken away. I also believe the Constitution allows local jurisdictions to pass and enforce restrictions on gun ownership. Justice Antonin Scalia said it best when he wrote

“We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. ‘Miller’ said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”

One of the most conservative justices in American history has argued that it is reasonable for jurisdictions to prohibit the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. As voters, we need to elect only those candidates who agree that AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons that are not traditionally used for hunting are indeed “dangerous and unusual” weapons. We need to write laws that say this. And then we need to pass these laws.

The worship of the strict gun rights interpretation of the Second Amendment can no longer hold sway over the politicians of this country. It has led to too many dead children and teachers.

Many Americans will argue that this is not a gun issue. To that, I ask a simple question: Why are Americans more violently, homicidally deranged than the people of any other country, then? If it’s NOT a gun issue then it must mean that we are a disproportionately violent people.

In either case, if enough of us become single-issue voters we can change things. Let’s vote only for candidates who are willing to devote resources to mental health services and violence prevention programs in our schools and towns.

Maybe the term “single-issue voter” is wrong in this case. “Double-issue voter” might be more apt. The twin issues of gun restrictions and mental health need to be what we focus on as voters if we are ever going to reverse this horrific and tragic trend of mass shootings in America.

Arguments that it is “too soon” to talk about this in the wake of yet another slaughter at a school ring hollow. With mass shootings happening with disgusting regularity, there would never be an appropriate time to talk about what we can do to simply become more like every other country in the world that DOESN’T have this same problem.

Arguments that any single proposal would not have stopped this particular massacre of innocent people and, therefore, any single law would be useless, need to be shown as the bullshit they are. Of course no single law will change things. It is going to take a fully-formed array of public policies to stop angry Americans from killing other Americans in large numbers with guns.

To say that this problem of gun violence in America is too complicated to fix with a single law is to condemn more children to death in their schools and more parents to receiving text messages like the one a mom got in Florida yesterday.

I hear on the radio the latest reports of yet another mass shooting and part of me is numb. I read the story online and some growing part of my brain and my heart have scarred over and it affects me a little bit less.

Seeing the text message that mother received yesterday broke through the callous and made me re-see what a uniquely violent culture we are right now in America. I refuse to give up. I am going to be a double-issue voter from now on.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Chris, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the issues. Assault weapons have no place in anyone's hands except those protecting us. Mental health stipulations for individuals who have violent records and police involvement not for individuals who are in treatment for their mental health with no criminal history. The U.K. and Australia dealt with their mass shooting incidences by banning assault weapons and even hand guns in the U.K. Their incidences of mass shootings is virtually non-existent now. We can learn from their experience