By Shira Goodman
Could it happen here?
Watching the news the last few days has been shocking. Not the horrific shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand — that, unfortunately, was not shocking. Nor was the hate-filled rhetoric of the shooter.
Hate-inspired mass shootings in places of peace and worship have become too commonplace to be shocking. Just think of the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the AME Church in Charleston, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. This is not new.
When hatred, ignorance and anger are combined with easy access to firearms, this is the result.
What is new is New Zealand’s reaction.
As one commentator on Twitter marveled sarcastically: “Did New Zealand even try thoughts and prayers?”
Because instead of hiding behind those cliches, instead of saying “It’s too soon,” New Zealand’s leaders are leading, acting, working to ensure this type of tragedy does not happen again.
They are taking on the issue of easy access to military style assault weapons, and they are not waiting. In fact, many of us woke to the news last Thursday that New Zealand had enacted a ban on those weapons, and was beginning the process of buying them back immediately.
Six days after a horrific, hate-inspired attack that killed 51, left at least 40 more injured, and devastated families and friends, a nation in mourning took action. This is shocking, but it shouldn’t be. It’s shocking only because it is the complete opposite of what happens here in the U.S.
What happens here is a predictable cycle of tears, moments of silence, politicians’ offering thoughts and prayers and urging us to wait, that it’s not the time for action, it’s time to mourn, grieve and heal.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re doing it wrong.
We haven’t broken the pattern yet, though, despite so many opportunities. Certainly, we thought, change would come after Columbine,Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, Squirrel Hill, Thousand Oaks. Surely change would come after years of losing between 30,000 and 40,000 American lives per year to guns, with hundreds of thousands injured. But we were wrong.
Our elected officials have failed to lead, instead choosing inaction and caving in to a greedy gun lobby that does all it can to ensure that nothing changes.
But could the pattern change? Could we do what New Zealand has done? Could we take action while we mourn? Could we honor the victims and survivors of so much gun violence with meaningful action?
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I believe we could. In fact, I believe we can and we will. And the Second Amendment in no way would prevent this.
After all, even the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court, told us in the 2008 decision District of Columbia vs. Heller that, like our other constitutional rights, the right to gun ownership guaranteed by the Second Amendment is not absolute.
There are lots of policies we could enact right now, consistent with the Second Amendment, that would reduce gun violence and gun deaths and that would save lives.
But it will take all of us, working every day to force that change and that action. We need to throw away the script of how we deal with gun violence, and start demanding more of our elected officials, and of ourselves. They have failed to act, but we’ve let them get away with that.
We have enabled their inaction, and that needs to end. No one can get a pass anymore. There are not two sides of this issue. There is only right and wrong. We must stand up and fight and demand that those who want to lead us, actually lead.
If a nation in mourning can take immediate action, maybe action is really part of the mourning process.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, a statewide gun violence prevention organization. She writes from Philadelphia.
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