Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson, Uptown Neighborhood News, January 2013
“We must change.”
President Barack Obama clearly and emphatically stated this at the December 16 prayer vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
This public declaration was prompted by the tragic, senseless killing of 26 people, including 20 first-grade school children, with an assault rifle designed for combat on a battlefield. That this lethal weapon came to be fired at astonishing speed at innocent children in a classroom says volumes about our country’s misplaced priorities and broken political system.
Examining the history of the proliferation of guns, including those with no discernible civilian purpose, and the dismal failure of gun control initiatives, can serve as a case study for how things happen, and don’t happen, in the political/governmental process.
In a word – power.
The legislative, legal and regulative systems are absurdly complex enabling convoluted thinking and barely legal tactics to prevail by those who amass the power to get what they want. In this case power is wielded primarily by the National Rifle Association that is richly funded by all facets of the firearms industry from manufacturers to retailers like Walmart.
Financial power translates into political power that can be used to help elect Members of Congress who are friendly to their agenda and, perhaps more dangerously, to aggressively work against those who resist following in lockstep. Targeting and defeating, often humiliating, a few non–compliant representatives sends a powerful message. Intimidation is one of the key strategies used by the National Rifle Association, as well as many other special interest groups.
The gun lobby cites the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution to justify and legalize its demands:
The Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.
That’s all it says.
At the time this Amendment was adopted regular citizens had to be ready to defend the new nation. Rifles at the time were slow and clumsy. It is preposterous to claim the founders intended to legalize the right for any person to obtain, through purchase or theft, a weapon that can kill 26 people in a matter of minutes. This is not maintaining a well-regulated militia, it’s a breakdown in our civilization.
The tragedy in Newtown brings into sharp focus one major crisis – gun violence. The solutions to countless other critical national and international problems including climate change, childhood poverty and, closely related to this tragedy, adequate provision of mental health services are impeded by similar abuse of power in the political system. A disgusting, real aspect of our democratic system and one we must confront head-on.
At the prayer vigil in Newtown, President Obama went on talk about how our responsibility to our children must be our nation’s top priority. He said “this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation….We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this…”
Surely, we can and must do better than this in keeping our children safe as well as housed, fed and educated. That the United States of America is ranked among third world countries on these criteria shows how we are failing at this most critical responsibility.
Again, about power.
“I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine,” said the President.
We individuals have enormous power if we take our responsibility as citizens seriously and organize to change America. The power of citizens working for the common good can overcome the power of money and special interests. Now is the time.
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
More commentary from various sources related to the nexus of culture, politics, religion, spiritualty and intellect can be found at www.ProgressiveValues.org.
Phyllis Stenerson is the previous Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in the CARAG neighborhood.