For most Americans, the holiday season is about the peaceful enjoyment of family and friends, those who mean the most to us in our daily lives. But even this season of peace knows no respite from the plague of gun violence. For too many Americans, this holiday season will be remembered only for the devastating sense of loss as their loved ones are torn from their lives by senseless gunfire.
In Texas, on Christmas Day, a man facing marital and financial problems shoots and kills his estranged wife, his two teenage children, and three other family members while dressed in a Santa Claus outfit.
In Colorado a 3-year-old accidentally shoots and kills his 5-year-old playmate.
In Indiana a 7-year-old boy is shot in the head during a Christmas celebration with his family as shots are fired from the street outside his house.
In California a soldier who had received a Purple Heart for his wounds in Afghanistan is shot and paralyzed during an argument over a football team.
On some level it seems that we ought not to have to confront such horror during the season of peace. But not even the most joyous time of the year can immunize us against the reality of gun tragedies. The deadly drumbeat of gun violence just goes on and on, an American tragedy of a kind and dimension unknown to other Western nations. Among all the Western, high-income nations of the world, 80 percent of gun deaths occur in the U.S., a particularly unwelcome instance of American exceptionalism.
Many thought the Tucson mass shooting of almost a year ago would rouse the Washington politicians to action. After all, one of the most admired Members of Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was herself struck down and still struggles bravely to recover from a grievous head wound. Yet the only gun-related legislation to reach a vote in Congress since the Tucson shooting would make it easier for dangerous carriers of concealed weapons, like the Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, to carry their guns across state lines. The politicians are not listening to the voices of ordinary Americans whose families and communities have been devastated by gunfire. They hear only the intimidating voice of the gun lobby, with its finely honed message that any demonstration of common sense on the gun issue will be met with political reprisal.
Yet this is an issue that should transcend politics. No one who hears the stories of the victims -- those who survived the gunshots and those who did not -- can possibly believe that gun violence is an issue to be determined by the politics of the moment. No one who hears these stories can escape the conclusion that the unnecessary loss of life and untold suffering from easy access to deadly weaponry presents not a political issue but a moral issue. The politicians are not hearing, because they are not listening.
That's why, on Jan. 8, 2012, a year to the day after the Tucson shooting, Americans will join together to ensure that the voices of the victims are honored and are heard. From San Francisco to New York, from Austin to Duluth, Americans will light a candle in remembrance of those struck down, and in protest against the callous inaction of those in power who seem able to find every flimsy excuse for national policies that guarantee that the deadly drumbeat of gun violence will go on and on. The Too Many Victims Candlelight Vigil campaign allows ordinary Americans to make a simple yet powerful statement that our country deserves more than cowering politicians afraid to stand up to the bullies of the gun lobby.
Our country deserves a season of peace uninterrupted by the tragic reminders that, for too many Americans, there is no peace from gun violence.
Dennis Henigan is the Acting President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the author of Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009).
This item and previous entries also are posted at the Brady Blog.