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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!


  1. I live in wild and woolly Virginia, where anyone who is qualified to buy a gun can carry it openly without any sort of permit. There were about five murders last year in Arlington, VA. In next door Alexandria, I think there were six. But cross into DC, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and you're looking at around 200 every year.

    Something the gun banners don't seem to grasp is that a government that is powerful enough to take away some rights, is powerful enough to take them all. It is irrelevant that you do not choose to exercise some rights, because sooner or later the government will go after rights you DO treasure. I'm just confounded that there are people who are willing to throw away ANY rights. Liberals should be fighting just as hard as conservatives to EXPAND our rights, not to limit them. Because when it comes to oppressive government, it's only a matter of time until you are next.

  2. I'm a little confused about something.

    You state that your purpose is to reduce gun violence.

    You oppose lifting the restrictions on lawful gun ownership and use in DC.

    Washington DC, however, is one of the most violent (including gun violence) cities in the US.

    We, in the gun rights community, believe that allowing law abiding citizens to avail themselves of the most effective tools of self-defense known to mankind would do much to curb the violence in that city and, so are doing what we feel is necessary to curb violent crime there (not all violence and not just gun violence, but all violence perpetrated against the innocent...violence administered in self defense is just and righteous and should not be reduced, but encouraged).

    My confusion lies in this: During the time that DC has had an all-but outright ban on the legal use and ownership of defensive firearms, what, specifically, has your organization accomplished in the City in an effort to reduce the gun violence?

    By what standard could any rational person consider Washington DC's policies to be effective in reducing gun violence?

    As current DC law stands right now, with the effective ban on the use of firearms for self defense in place, what policies, laws or regulations does your organization propose to reduce the tragic level of gun violence in that city?

  3. One thing you forgot to mention Ranger is that 25% of DC's crime guns are illegally trafficked into the city from Virginia. Clearly, the Commonwealth's weak gun laws are stopping neither criminals nor traffickers from getting their hands on guns. As for "oppressive," we consider 30,000+ lives lost to gun violence in the U.S. each year oppressive, and are legitimately concerned about public safety. We are doing almost nothing to prevent dangerous individuals from getting their hands on guns in this country. If the political will were there, we could prevent this from happening, and avoid many tragedies to come. -CSGV

  4. Sailor, you fail to note that 97% of DC's crime guns are trafficked in illegally from outside states with weak gun laws. It is not DC's tough gun laws that are failing. DC's police actually took nearly 3,000 guns off the streets last year, undoubtedly saving many lives in the process. They deserve credit. What do we propose? #1, a background check on every gun sale. Allowing criminals and other prohibited purchasers to buy guns without any paperwork or accountability is dangerous and bad policy. #2, reinstate the assault weapons ban to limit the damage these guns are doing to law enforcement and to people in our communities (as recently seen in Virginia Beach) and #3, provide law enforcement with new tools like microstamping to solve gun crimes with the ballistic evidence commonly collected at a crime scene. None of this is a mystery - other industrialized democracies have enacted smart, tough gun control laws and dramatically reduced gun violence and limited criminal access to guns. We are the exception to the rule with our weak gun laws. -CSGV

  5. Clearly, the Commonwealth's weak gun laws are stopping neither criminals nor traffickers from getting their hands on guns.

    Just as clearly, DC's "strong" gun laws are doing no more. In fact, there is more crime where the "strong" gun laws are than where the "weak" laws are.

  6. Phelps, that's actually not true. If you look at CDC data for 2005 and analyze the states by gun death rate per capita, the states with the highest per capita gun death rates are (in order): Louisiana, Alaska, Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, Nevada, Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Wyoming. There's not a state in that group with tough gun laws. Interestingly, the bottom six states with the lowest gun death rates per capita are: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Hawaii (lowest). All states with tough, smart gun laws. It's clear that strong gun control laws work to reduce gun violence (and this holds up in international comparisons with other industrialized democracies as well). As for DC, its gun death rate is higher than any of the states, but it is a CITY with significant poverty and no rural areas whatsoever, so comparing it to a state like Virginia, say, is a bit of a stretch. Plus, as we've noted, 97% of DC's crime guns are bought by traffickers in outside states with weak gun laws (in violation of federal and state law). It is not DC's laws they are taking advantage of to profit from crime.

  7. If 97% of crime guns are already in violation of a law, shouldn't the focus be on enforcing those existing violations rather than working on the last 3%?

  8. I find your list of states incredible. Are you counting gun related deaths (which includes suicide and accidental shootings) or homicides? Suicides tend to occur with whatever method is handy, so taking guns out of that equation would have zero effect on deaths. As for accidental shootings, there are far more accidental deaths due to automobiles, but we don't ban them.

  9. Phelps, the list we provided was for all gun deaths. If you look at just gun HOMICIDE per capita, the top 10 states in 2005 were: Louisiana, Maryland, Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, California and North Carolina (in that order). Of those states, one has good gun laws, one very good (California). The rest have very weak laws. We would disagree that guns do not make suicide more lethal. They do, and are more likely to result in death than drug overdoses or other methods. As for cars, you're right, we don't ban them. But since the mid-20th century we've regulated them highly (along with our roads) in an effort to reduce automobile-related injuries and deaths. We have seen no similar effort in this country to date to reduce firearm injury and death. -CSGV

  10. Your position is against criminal with guns and not law-abiding people with guns?

    The real problem is high crime rates in urban areas. There are higher rates of gun ownership in rural areas without the corresponding high rate of crime.

    The 30K figure also lumps justified homicides, which are not crimes. These are deaths by police and self-defense. These are classified as homicide but are not "gun crimes".

    I doubt if there is any person who is pro gun that wants an increase is criminal activity with or without guns. I am a realist and figure as long as there are criminals who prey on people there is a need for the tools of self-defense. As a woman of 5 feet tall I am weaker than a large man intent on rape, murder or a beating. The gun is my tool that equalizes that field. I do not accept that your desire to reduce gun crimes comes at the cost of my life.

    I gladly want to reduce crime and the culture that glorify crimes in urban areas. Your desires may be more realized if you went after the culture that promotes crime and that does not mean poverty. Since past history has not shown poverty is the cause. It is rather the culture that fails to inculculate values in young people that life is precious. That is it wrong to steal, lie, and bully others.

    Rather than promote laws to make law-abiding people defenseless please put your resources in promoting marriage to reduce one-parent homes and against rap lyrics that glorify crime. If we instill the proper values in the youth then maybe that would reduce the amount of criminals.

  11. Anonymous, as noted before, if you look at CDC data for 2005 and analyze the states controlling for population, the states with the highest per capita gun death rates are (in order): Louisiana, Alaska, Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, Nevada, Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Not exactly a group of states you associate with large urban centers.

    As for gun homicide, in 2005 the CDC reported 12,352 gun homicides in the U.S. During the same year, the FBI reported only 143 justifiable homicides involving a firearm.

    Your comments about rap lyrics and urban areas seem to suggest you believe gun violence is a problem limited to African-Americans in our country. That's not the case. Going back to the 2005 CDC data, there were 15,681 gun suicides involving whites and 1,009 involving blacks. There were 601 unintentional shootings involving whites and 154 involving blacks. As for gun homicide, DOJ did a 30-year study of it and found that blacks were offenders in 56.4% of cases, whites in 41.9%. For homicides with multiple victims, however, whites accounted for 55.7% of such killings, blacks for 40.8%. So while blacks certainly are disproportionately affected by gun violence and overrepresented as offenders in gun homicide cases, whites are still involved in many thousands of gun deaths each year in our country.

    Nor does the culture of violence in our country target only African Americans. Recent films such as "The Brave One," "Shoot 'Em Up," and "Death Sentence" also glorify guns and killing. And the gun lobby continues to depict guns as the solution to our nation's struggle with violent crime and glorify what they describe as "justified violence."

    We're strongly for a push for nonviolence across all these fronts, and believe a key part of that effort is limiting the access that criminals and other dangerous individuals have to firearms. -CSGV