Every year, watching the U.S. Open tennis tournament makes me so proud to be a New Yorker and an American. That was especially true this year, as both the men's and women's finals represented everything that is great about tennis. But unfortunately this year's incredibly deserving champions, Serena Williams and Andy Murray, are also a reminder of another part of our nation - something of which we should all be decidedly un-proud. They serve as a powerful reminder of the tragic toll of gun violence and our nation's unique failure to do enough to prevent it.
Both Andy Murray and Serena Williams were touched by gun violence.
In 1996 Andy Murray was eight years old when a gunman killed 17 children and teachers at his primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. Andy was heading to the gym when the gunfire broke out there. He and his brother hid under a desk until the shooting was over.
Nine years ago -- almost to the day - Yetunda Price, the oldest sister of Serena and Venus, was shot to death in Compton, where the Williams family grew up. Yetunda was 31, a mother of three, a registered nurse who assisted her tennis-playing sisters.
How did citizens and lawmakers in the two nations respond?
In the United Kingdom it took both Houses of Parliament just eight days to vote to establish a tribunal to investigate the Dunblane massacre and make recommendations about how such tragedies could be prevented. That report formed the basis for a strong legislative response the following year, in which handguns were virtually banned. Parliament had already greatly restricted access to firearms in response to an earlier mass shooting in 1987.
America's response, of course, has been the polar opposite. Our political leaders have done virtually nothing to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns despite over a decade of numerous mass shootings -- in Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson, Aurora, and elsewhere -- and 30,000 killed with guns in America every year (including many other prominent athletes and members of their families, as noted in a recent Brady Center report, Guns in Sports.) In fact, in recent years Congress has given special legal protections to gun companies who supply criminals.
The result? In 2009, the homicide rate in the US was more than 4 times higher than the murder rate in the UK. Our firearms homicide rate is over 40 times higher than that of England and Wales.
It's not that Americans are more criminally-inclined or more violent than Brits. It's that our criminals have far-too-easy access to guns.
It's not that America should enact the same laws as the United Kingdom. On the contrary, a U.K.-like ban of handguns and other firearms is not advisable, even if it were Constitutional, which it is not. The point is that our political leaders should be engaging in a thoughtful conversation that explores real, effective solutions to our national gun violence epidemic.
As a nation, We Are Better Than This.
Serena Williams and Andy Murray represent far more than the tragedies that touched their lives, or a crisis that so severely impacts our nation. They showed us that they represent the perseverance, heart and will that it takes to be a champion - to be truly the best. We Americans rightfully believe we live in the greatest nation on earth, But as it relates to gun violence, we are embarrassingly far from it. It is time we show the heart and resolve that so defines our national character, to rid ourselves of the problem of gun violence once and for all, and show that this really is the greatest nation in the world.