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March 31, 2008

The Choice

This week will mark the 40th anniversary of the tragic day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken away from us by a sniper’s bullet. But the important lesson is not how he died.

In his life Dr. King taught us that great moral crises must be met with courage, principle and an uncompromising stand for what we know to be right. He taught us that violence, in whatever form, will never be more powerful than love. As he often said, “Violence creates more problems than it solves.” Dr. King also issued a warning: “I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.’ And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, ‘Put up your sword.’ History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command.”

But today, in the streets and neighborhoods of America, King's important lesson is in danger of being lost. Across the nation, homicide has become the leading cause of death among young African-American men. A recent Department of Justice study (pdf) found that nearly half the people murdered in the U.S. each year are black, and three out of four of these homicides involve a firearm. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to be confronted with a gun during a crime.

I was deeply honored when Coretta Scott King agreed to join Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy as honorary co-chairs of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. They courageously served CSGV for many years. It was a great privilege to work with these two women, who knew only too personally the great pain that gun violence can inflict.

We must remind ourselves of the challenge that Dr. King left us: “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.”

I hope that you will join the movement to make our communities, our schools, and our homes safe from gun violence. That would be a fitting way to honor the legacy of Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

March 23, 2008

Frustration…and Faith

It is no secret that the past seven years have brought many disappointments to those of us working to reduce gun violence. There have been a few important state victories in that time, but on the national level we have been faced with several setbacks. Now it seems that the Supreme Court will throw us another curve in June.

I am often asked: “You have been at this for over 30 years. What keeps you going?” I respond that I came to the cause out of anger. Anger at what was happening to my city, my country and my future. Anger at the deaths of thousands of children, wives and husbands and the failure of our leaders to take the problem of gun violence seriously.

I came because of anger. But, I have stayed because of faith. A faith that tells me that love is stronger than hate. A faith in our cause that gives substance to our hopes for a safer society and makes us certain of realities we cannot see.

In the dark times, I am upheld by the words of Rabbi Tarfon in the Pirke Avot: “The day is short, the task is great, the workers are sluggish and the wages are high and the Master of the house is pressing…” He also used to say: “You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it.”

I also feel compelled by the commandment of the writer of Ecclesiasticus (11:20-21): “Stand by your contract and give your mind to it; grow old at your work. Do not envy a rogue his success; trust the Lord and stick to your job.”

Well, at least I have followed the “grow old at your work” part!

March 18, 2008

What a Difference 2/9 Can Make

This week marks an important step in the quest to determine the role the Second Amendment will play in the national campaign to reduce gun violence. On Tuesday, March 18, the nine members of the Roberts' Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of the District of Columbia v. Heller. The District’s strict gun laws, which have been in effect since 1976, were declared unconstitutional in a lower court decision the Supreme Court will be reviewing.

The ultimate decision of the Justices in the Heller case could determine the scope of gun control legislation across the nation. Or the Court might decide to limit its ruling in a very narrow manner. Either way, the issue will be decided by a minimum of five members of the Court. Two of those members, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., are relatively new appointees of President George W. Bush. Those two Justices have already had a significant impact on the activist role this Court has played in several major cases. What a difference two votes can make on a wide range of important issues!

The Supreme Court debate this week will be an interesting political side-show, but the final decision is not expected until near the end of the Court's term in late June. Whatever the decision of the Court in the Heller case, the real campaign to reduce gun violence can and will continue. No matter their interpretation of the Second Amendment, a wide array of legislative and social action strategies are, and will continue to be, open to the gun safety movement. We at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence renew our thirty-year pledge to you to utilize every possible action to bring an end to the epidemic of gun violence in this nation.