THE BLOG
12/17/2012 10:33 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

The Time Is Now: State by State Referendum on Gun Control

Donna Denner, an elementary school art teacher from Danbury, whose classroom was locked down after the shooting, is quoted as having asked if the rest of us in the country was responding as she was: "Are they going about their regular activities? Is it just another news story to them?" Twitter, meanwhile, erupted with anger toward Jay Carney, the President's White House spokesman, for claiming that the issue of gun control did not belong in the present arena of grief. Denner is correct to ask for our collective commitment to addressing this moment, and Carney is right to say that grieving must be given its due place. And both these requests can surely be met by those of us whose children and kin were not so foully felled last Friday morning.

As human beings, we mourn for the innocents who had not yet learned to fear, who might have stood and gazed at their assailant, not undertanding his intention, never associating violence as being directed at them, too young to know that there would ever be a time when they might need to hide from an adult who might have reminded them of an older cousin, a young uncle. We imagine those children falling petal like, and just as unblemished, forever six, forever seven. And as we consider those faces, we must also remember that, as fellow-citizens, we have something that has been forever denied to them: our voices.

When we speak of gun control, what we are really asking for is a culture that is not driven by the anticipation of and response to violence.

A majority of Americans support placing restrictions on the purchase and possession of weapons, although in conversation we are wont to refer to the NRA quite as though that body - and not we, the majority - defines the national debate. We speak of national legislation, of lobbyists who are funded by billionaires, of the insurmountable odds of going up against that Goliath. Yet, as was pointed out by Malcolm Gladwell in an outstanding piece in the New Yorker, a few years ago, Goliath was beaten, as every bully is someday beaten, by David's decision to refuse to play by Goliath's rules. Indeed, he uses the research of the political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft, to demonstrate that those who refused to play the rules of the powerful went from being victorious 28.5 percent of the time to emerging as winners 63.6 percent of the time.

It is time for us to do the same. We are expected to decry the national culture of violence, but we are taught to internalize our own lack of power at the street-by-street level, except when it comes to an election. We must take this issue to the polls, and do so state by state. It won't be easy work, but it will be far easier than tuning in to another report of butchery coming out of the next Newtown.

Every single state in this country allows for the legislature to place a measure on the ballot, and we can plead with our legislators to bring gun-control laws to the vote, but there are 27 states from Washington to Maine that have provision for initatives and referendums that can be placed on the ballot by citizens. Let us begin there. By all means, we should support any national effort, including this one, that is collecting signatures to be delivered to members of the Congress and the President, and this one that plans to bring a million children to the capitol in the tradition of the Million Man March of 1995 and the Million Mom March of 2000, which was mean to force Congress to help keep guns out of the hands of children. This latest march is an effort to add a million faces to the twenty who are no more, a trust that the physical reminder of the youngest victims of this tragedy will move hearts turned to stone by the gun lobby.

I attended that Million Mom March more than a decade ago, taking my then four year daughter with me. A few months after that there was another shooting and my daughter asked me, how that could be, when she had already penned her note to the President, crouching at the foot of the Washington Monument? I gave her a convoluted explanation of time, but I realize now, that I was playing by the rules of the powerful, explaining away the inexplicable. We can ask for help from Washington, and we must, but the tears of a President many of us may never meet in person do not compare to those of the parents whose children we've held in our arms. There is no vigil, no service, no words of comfort, that can ease the pain of Jillian Soto or Robbie Parker. But we can ensure that when we say never again, we are finally willing to go to the mat to make that promise a reality.

We cannot wait for national legislation. We must take our grief to the streets, state by state, neighborhood by neighborhood, door by door, voice by voice, until we create for ourselves, not the nation we bemoan but the culture we are proud to have created. It is time to vote.