We had another mass shooting this week, this time in our nation's capital, and have heard nary a peep from any leaders about how we address mental illness and gun violence in America. Beyond the death of 12 victims and the mentally disturbed shooter, the tragedy of Monday's incident at the Washington Navy Yard is that there is no public uprising like there was after the school tragedy last year in Newtown, Connecticut.
Is it because there aren't pictures of brokenhearted parents and cherubic children plastered across our televisions? I hope not, because the people who died in the Navy Yard were someone's children; someone's mother or father; and someone's brother or sister.
Are we so callous that the loss of life by senseless gun violence is weighed against the age of the victim? Every life lost to gun violence should be counted equally on the conscience of every politician and citizen of the United States until we find a way to stop these senseless deaths.
Is there so much gun violence, real and make-believe, on our televisions that we've just stopped caring? Has real life just become too much like a first-person video game that we have stopped distinguishing between reality and video games like Grand Theft Auto? As a father of three, I hope that's not the world we are living in.
Families like ours that want safe streets and reasonable gun safety laws look at Washington, D.C. and see no leadership. Sure, there are a few strong, but lonely, voices like Senator Dianne Feinstein, but for the most part we are bereft of political leadership on guns at the national level. Someone needs to step up and say once and for all that gun violence in America is a public health epidemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, Division of Vital Statistics, there were 32,163 gun deaths in the U.S. in 2011 with an additional 73,883 non-fatal gun related injuries. That's just below the number of deaths in 2011 from breast cancer (39,9701), and significantly more than deaths from leukemia (21,7802). Would anyone argue that breast cancer and leukemia aren't public health issues? Of course not! So why are public policy makers denying that gun violence and gun deaths are?
The easy answer is the National Rifle Association (NRA). In the two-year 2012 political cycle alone the NRA spent $27,251,944 according to Center for Responsive Politics, with almost $20 million coming in the form of independent expenditures and electioneering communications. But don't get caught up in the abstractness of big numbers. What is most alarming is what happened in Colorado just a few weeks ago when an NRA initiated recall of two state senators, including the Senate president, successfully ousted two politicians for daring to support tougher gun laws in Colorado.
Make no mistake about it, what we saw in Colorado was the NRA's version of a kidnapper shooting two hostages to make sure everyone knows they are in charge and willing to take out whomever steps out of line. I hope NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and his thug buddies feel good about taking out two admittedly "cherry-picked" candidates from marginal, conservative leaning districts.
For all their political spending, the bullies from the NRA won't have a fair fight with someone that might beat them. They just pick on the weakest links and hope the rest of us understand that we are next. But someone has to stand up to Mr. LaPierre and the NRA because the only thing that stops a bully is someone willing to fight back and risk losing to prove that the giant can be slayed.
There is fantastic work being done on the local level in places like Colorado and California and the local politicians doing that work deserve our support and gratitude. California has lead the way on strengthening gun laws for decades and several bills currently sit on the governor's desk that could serve as national models. The time to act is now.
How many people have to die before we realize that the only thing the truly stops a bad guy is not letting them get their hands on a gun in the first place?
I'm on the ballot in 2014 if the NRA is looking for its next fight... bring it on.