One more terrifying, insane, heart-stopping shooting spree. How many is it now? I've lost count.
I will never again speak the words "gun violence." You know why? Because "gun violence" is a euphemism. It's hollow. It doesn't describe what's actually happening (like "collateral damage," a euphemism for the murder of innocent women and children).
I'm going to start calling it what it really is: domestic terrorism.
Media pundits like to talk about something called the weekly news cycle: a few boring days of news followed by a day or two of big news. We Americans have something just like it: our Weekly Shooting Cycle. On an almost weekly basis, our happy lives are shattered by horrifying news of a new shooting rampage.
I think we can all agree that the danger of terrorism is very real and frightening. But how does it compare to gun violence, this terrorism within our own borders... what I call domestic terrorism?
Let's look at the facts:
FACT: On 9/11 - one of the most horrifying and traumatic events in US history - almost 3,000 people were killed (2,996 to be exact, including 19 hijackers, 246 people on four planes, 2,606 in the World Trade Center and surrounding area including police and fire fighters, and 125 at the Pentagon). This is a mind-numbing statistic. Heartbreaking does not quite do it justice.
FACT: TEN TIMES more people are killed by guns each year in the US than were killed on 9/11. Yes, it's true. That's why we must call gun violence what it really is: domestic terrorism.
Think about it. If gun violence kills 10 times more people than 9/11, a horrific terrorist act, and causes Americans to live in fear, and attacks our trust in revered public institutions such as our schools and churches, what do you call it? I call it terrorism. Plain and simple.
According to the National Vital Statistics System at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics: In 2010, a heart-stopping 11,078 people were murdered by guns in the US, and another 19,392 died of suicide by gun. That's about 30,000 people killed by guns in the US each year. Here's the bottom line: That's more than 10 times the death toll from 9/11.
FACT: Consider this: 9/11 only happened once. But domestic terrorism happens on a daily basis. In the 14 years since 9/11, nearly 420,000 people have been killed by guns in the US. Because this happens year after year - not just once, like 9/11 - domestic terrorism (gun violence) has actually killed 140 times more people than 9/11. (3,000 people on 9/11 vs. 420,000 people killed by gun violence since then)
FACT: Our political leaders launched two wars, spent $3 trillion, and pushed our country to the brink of economic collapse to fight terrorism and avenge the 9/11 attacks. You can argue the pros and cons of the two wars, but you've got to admit one thing: That shows determination. That shows a willingness to go to any lengths to prevent another terrorist attack and keep us safe here at home.
Was putting an end to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cronies worth $3 trillion and the lives of the 6,800 US soldiers killed (and countless others who returned home with disabling injuries and PTSD)? You'd have to ask the soldiers and their wives and children. They paid the price. Was it worth the more than 100,000 innocent, unarmed Iraqi and Afghan women and children who were killed by American weapons (so-called "collateral damage")? Absolutely not. How can a proud nation kill innocent women and children? But you've got to admit, it was a massive effort, and in the end: Osama bin Laden was dead and his terrorist infrastructure was destroyed.
QUESTION: Why won't our political leaders go to the same lengths to keep us safe from domestic terrorism (gun violence) here at home?
What are they doing to protect us from domestic terrorism? So far, the answer is clear: Absolutely nothing. Lip service, broken promises, the broken dreams of the families who have lost their children, and promised laws that are secretly strangled by Congressional subcommittees and never see the light of day.
Are you sick and tired of broken promises?
Trillions of dollars spent, the most technologically superior weapons on the planet, an army of Homeland Security agents reading our emails and eves-dropping on our phone calls, and our political leaders can't even keep our kids safe in their own school, church, or at the local movie theater. It's an outrage!
Is the NRA a terrorist organization?
No, of course not. I believe its members are good people who love their kids and love their country. They sincerely believe that the US Constitution guarantees them the right to own guns. My own father is a fully paid lifetime member of the NRA. I grew up in a house full of guns. I love my dad and I can vouch for the fact that he's a wonderful human being. He would never shoot anybody, not even in anger.
And yet, here we are again. The police say the murderer bought his gun legally. What does this tell us? It means our laws have no teeth. It means our political leaders, once again, failed to protect us. Was the murderer an NRA member? I don't know. I don't even care. It's not the NRA members we have to worry about. It's the fact that they fiercely cling to an ideal that's anachronistic and harmful for our country.
Our children are not safe in their own schools, our churches, even our movie theaters. This is not a cold-hearted statistic. It's not just another news headline. It's heartbreaking. It's a real family whose son or daughter has just been murdered. How would you feel if you watched your own child bundled into in an ambulance covered in blood? If we are to stop this cycle of violence, we must stop thinking that gun violence always happens to someone else. You must pretend it happened to you.
The NRA says that "guns are safe, it's just the people who use them who are dangerous." They say: "The right to own guns is guaranteed by the US Constitution." These are lame arguments. Why? Because they do not keep our children safe.
The NRA would like us to think this is a complex issue, but it's not really. The US Declaration of Independence - signed on July 4, 1776 - says that "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" are our basic rights. The US Constitution also guarantees our right to life. It commands: "nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property." The US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution clearly guarantee the right of our children to be safe.
By refusing to protect our children from gun violence, our political leaders are in breach of - in violation of - both the US Constitution and the US Declaration of Independence. Their refusal to protect us is "unconstitutional."
The US Constitution does indeed grant conflicting rights. It says we have the right to carry guns. It also says we have the right to life, liberty and property. But... if someone shoots me with a gun, am I not deprived of my right to life, liberty, property... and the pursuit of happiness? When the Constitution grants conflicting rights, the right to life must be paramount, because without it, no other rights are possible.
Therefore, my right for my children to be safe outweighs your right to carry a gun. Pure and simple.
Now here's a shocker: Two weeks - and two horrific shootings ago - my father tore up his Lifetime NRA Membership card. He mailed it back to the NRA in pieces. Even though I founded the Imagine Institute, a think tank for peace, in order to teach the principles and benefits of nonviolence, I feel like what I've done pales in comparison to his courage. I'm stunned with admiration for him. I never thought I'd live to see the day that my dear old dad would tear up his NRA card and say: Enough is enough!
Are you ready to say: Enough is enough?
Think about this: On October 9, 2012, a Taliban terrorist shot a young student, Malala Yousafzai. By shooting her, he committed a terrorist act. (Malala survived, and in 2014 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.) On December 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot 20 children and 6 adults, he committed a terrorist act.
To end gun violence, we must call it by its real name: domestic terrorism. Shooting innocent, unarmed women and children in a school, church, or movie theater is, quite simply, an act of domestic terrorism.
QUESTION: Why do our political leaders move swiftly to crush terrorism outside our borders, but refuse to do anything to stop it here at home?
I don't know the answer. After this latest shooting, my heart is broken.
A TIME FOR ACTION
I once met Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi. He said something that really surprised me. He said: "My grandfather was a very angry man." Really? Mahatma Gandhi, the great man of peace... an angry man? But if you think about it, maybe that's what it takes to change things.
As I see it, we have three choices: 1) We can get angry and demand change; 2) We can be apathetic, in which case we are complicit. By looking the other way, we are allowing the violence to continue. By making no choice, we are making a choice; or 3) We can live in fear. We can hide in our homes and refuse to send our kids to school, church, or to the local movie theater.
I, for one, refuse to live in fear. And I refuse to look the other way. So I choose option one.
It's time for you and I to get angry and demand change. The lives of children absolutely depend on us. Maybe it's time we take to the streets in outrage that our constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can so easily be taken away by any stranger we meet. Maybe it's time for us to RISE UP. If we do so, our politicians cannot refuse us. Remember the cigarette manufacturers? They used to hide behind the US Constitution and the right to free speech (advertising). But we rose up and finally stopped 'em, because their actions were killing us. Change is not only possible, it is guaranteed... so long as we RISE UP and never quit.
When I was a kid, schools, churches and movie theaters were safe. Shootings were rare. I can't tell you why gun violence has accelerated, but it's gotten so crazy that shootings now happen almost weekly. I always accepted that life was dangerous for a police officer, or a fireman, or a soldier fighting on a battlefield. But I never dreamed it would be dangerous just to be a young American boy or girl in school, at church, or in a movie theater.
I'll borrow a line from the movie Network: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!
Here are the Action Steps you can take:
Fly your US flag at half-mast - permanently - until America is safe for our kids. I'm going to fly my flag at half-mast and I ask you to join me as a sign of protest, as an act of civil disobedience. When your friends and neighbors ask you why you're flying your flag at half-mast, say: I'm a patriotic American. I believe in my Constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's why I'm mad as hell. And I'm not going to take it anymore!
Apply a litmus test to our political candidates on this one issue. We must insist that the men and women we support take a vow to stop domestic terrorism (gun violence). If they won't take the pledge to stop domestic terrorism, we must refuse to vote for them or give money to their campaigns.
Our politicians swore an oath to uphold the US Constitution. If our politicians refuse to do the right thing and make our schools, churches, and streets safe for our children, I have one thing to say: LET'S THROW THE BUMBS OUT !!
Google the words "gun control organization," or "Coalition to Stop Gun Violence," or "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence," or "Five gun control groups worth your time and donations." Go online and give them money. Become an activist. Offer your help. Host a potluck dinner for your friends and family to figure out how we can defeat domestic terrorism once and for all.
Refuse to speak the words gun violence. Call it domestic terrorism. That's what it really is. Like my father, we must have the courage to take a stand. Let's refuse to be bullied by the NRA and the gun industry and their wealthy donors and highly-paid lobbyists. Let's reclaim our schools, churches, and movies theaters - and ALL public places - as safe zones. Let's work hard and don't give up - no never! - until we make our streets, schools, churches, and all public places safe for our children.
It's time to end domestic terrorism.
Are you ready?
Source: "10 Leading Causes of Injury Death by Age Group Highlighting Violence-Related Injury Deaths, United States" (PDF). National Vital Statistics System. National Center for Health Statistics, CDC. 2010.