By Gloria J. Browne-Marshall
How could it happen here? This is the; usual reaction of suburban residents affected by gun violence. But, gun violence is not the exclusive burden of cities. President Barack Obama’s words of consolation were not only for Newtown families who lost children to mass murder. He was speaking to grieving families of gun violence nationwide.
“Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings,” the President said. In his four years in office, mass shootings have occurred in a movie theater in Aurora, CO; a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI; and a shopping center in Tucson, AZ, and a college in Oakland, CA. Soldiers at the Fort Hood Army base were victims of gun violence when Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychologist, killed thirteen people and wounded thirty-four others in 2009.
“There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country,” the President said. There have been sixty-two mass killings between 1982 and 2012, according to Mother Jones Magazine. In the last eight years, random murders and other gun violence have taken the lives of 247,131 women, men, and children, according to the Firearm Injury Center at Penn (FICAP).
“Reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.” With these words, President Obama acknowledged urban gun violence as a concern equal to that of mass killings.
“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” he said. Over 116,000 children have been killed in gun violence. Although most of those victims lived in urban areas the risk of death or injury by firearm is not just an urban problem.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” he said. Mass gun atrocities happen more often in suburban communities. If there is a routine for incidents of mass killings it would be in the suburbs or involve workplace disputes among small town adults. However, urban gun violence routinely involves individuals, more likely teenagers or young adults.
“We bear a responsibility for every child,” he said. The President’s speech was motivated by the mass shooting in Newtown. However, change must include inner city children in St. Louis, Chicago, Newark, NJ, and New Orleans where young lives are taken by stray bullets, gangs, and enraged adults. Families who lost children in the Newtown massacre share a common grief with Black and Latino families in New York City, Philadelphia, and Kansas City. The senseless loss of children to gun violence leaves all families devastated, wherever they reside.
“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” he said. Pro-gun enthusiasts may deride gun control as an infringement of their right to bear arms. As recently as 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld McDonald v. Chicago, a case that allows guns for home protection.
“We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex,” said the President. To date, no reason has been given for Adam Lanza’s actions. He killed children with a Bushmaster AR-15, a civilian version of the military M-16 rifle, shooting five year-old children over ten times. Lanza also carried a 10-millimeter Glock handgun and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer. All three guns were legally registered to Nancy Lanza, his mother, who was the first to die. Adam shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School where he killed twenty children and six adults.
“Surely we can do better than this,” the President said. Currently, there are no Federal gun control laws. In 1994, Congress enacted an Assault Weapons Ban which prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic, or assault weapons, for civilian use. However, that Federal law, signed by President Bill Clinton, was allowed to lapse in 2004, under President George W. Bush. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) will propose gun control legislation on the first day Congress returns to full session. Senator Feinstein authored the 1994 legislation.
“I’ll use whatever power this office holds,” he promised. However, any politician supporting gun-control legislation will need the assistance of voters. Solutions will require every sector of American society. Gun violence is an American problem. Suburban and rural communities must stand together with families in cities to get gun-control laws enacted.
President Obama ended the memorial in Newtown with a demand for action. “For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present” and a journalist covering the U.S. Supreme Court.