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May 27, 2008


Like the rest of the nation, I was stunned and saddened by the recent news about Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy’s health. It seemed to knock the breath from our collective lungs here at the Coalition. But, in true Kennedy nature, Senator Kennedy is leading us through pain and grief yet again. With stoic pride and strength, he is showing us that patience and understanding are the ways to get through a rough time—not by reacting in anger.

The same was true when his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and presidential candidate Senator Robert Kennedy, were gunned down and murdered. Although racked with grief, he refused to respond to the tragedy by calling on his fellow Americans to take up arms against one another. Nor did he himself exhibit a need for retribution. In those dark moments, he remained calm and let go of his fear and anger. And it was faith and reason that brought him through.

As a college student, I had the opportunity to serve as an intern in the office of Senator John F. Kennedy. That was a unique experience I will always treasure. His assassination and the shootings of Senator Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were the major reasons for the founding of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Over the intervening years, it has been a great pleasure to work with Senator Ted Kennedy on a series of important gun control measures.

I have the utmost admiration for the senator for his years of leadership and counsel. Teddy and Vicki, you are in our thoughts, prayers and hearts. May peace be with you. We look forward to having you back in Washington soon.

May 19, 2008

When We Are Called

A wise person once observed that there is a nexus between those who study because they suffer and those who suffer because they study.

It seems to me that the gun control movement is one of those places. Too many people come to the movement because they suffer as victims or survivors of gun tragedy. Others come to the movement because they have taken the time to study the issue and are outraged by what they find. Either way we enter, the pain becomes the same once we’re in.

In today’s political climate it is sometimes difficult to keep a positive attitude about the state of our movement. How do we carry on in the face of so much suffering? At such a time, I find myself turning to poetry and song. One song which has given me comfort is “When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise” (words by Mary Nelson Keithahn):

“When we are called to sing your praise with hearts so filled with pain
That we would rather sit and weep or stand up and complain,
Remind us, God, you understand the burdens that we bear;
You, too, have walked the shadowed way and known our deep despair.

When we are called to sing your praise and cannot find our voice,
Because our losses leave us now no reason to rejoice,
Remind us God, that you accept our sad laments in prayer;
You, too, have walked the shadowed way and known our deep despair.

When we are called to sing your praise and life ahead looks grim,
Still give us faith and hope enough to break forth in hymn,
A thankful hymn, great God of Love, that you are everywhere;
You walk the shadowed way with us and keep us in your care.”*

In those times when we must look inside for strength, I can only offer the hope that we can break forth in song and find that which is the source of our confidence.

*Copyright 2000 by Abingdon Press, admin by The Copyright Co.

May 12, 2008

The Little Leader

In the playLife of Galileo (Leben des Galilei)” by Bertolt Brecht, Gallileo is told by his daughter, Andrea, “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero." Galileo responds, "No Andrea, unhappy is the land that needs a hero."

As we
enter a summer certain to be filled with more horrific incidents of gun violence, our country is unhappily in need of heroes. The spring, however, seems to have already brought us one: Kai Leigh Harriott of Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Kai Leigh’s story
was related by Marie Szaniszlo in the April 30 edition of the Boston Herald. Kai Leigh was just 3 years old in 2003 when she was struck on her front porch by a stray bullet which pierced her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.

The shooter was arrested and at his sentencing three years later, Kai Leigh turned her tear-stained face to the accused and told him that what he had done was wrong, but she forgave him.

Later, the convicted shooter videotaped an apology from behind bars urging other youth to learn from his mistakes. Viewing the tape, Kai Leigh (now age 7) said, “I would tell him thank you for making an apology because you can inspire so many people by telling them, ‘Don’t do bad things.’”

Kai Leigh’s spirit reminds me of the vision of the peaceable kingdom offered by the writer of the Book of Isaiah (chapter 11, verse 6 in the King James Bible):

“The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

May 5, 2008

The Long Hot Summer Ahead

It is still spring and yet the indications are already here that we will have a long and deadly summer. Youth homicides are already beginning to reach epidemic proportions in many cities across the country as the economy slumps further and temperatures turn upward. Mayors in places like Chicago and Washington, D.C. are calling for emergency actions to reduce teen gun violence.

A decade ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a study that pointed out U.S. children ages 14 and younger are 12 times more likely to die by gunfire than children in 25 other industrialized nations combined. Young Americans are more likely to die from gunfire than from all natural causes combined.

Why is this? Some would argue that there are cultural differences—that Americans gorge themselves on violent videogames and movies. I have traveled around many countries of the world and I know that youth the world over watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video and computer games. While there is no doubt that there are many factors involved in American gun violence, the single largest factor is the easy availability of guns. This is where the similarities between other nations and the U.S. disappear.

Within our own country there is a similar disparity. A Harvard University study demonstrated that children in the U.S. are more likely to be killed with guns in states where there is a high level of gun ownership as opposed to states with low levels of gun ownership. Dr. Matthew Miller, lead author of the study, said “In States with more guns, more children are dying. They are dying in suicides, in homicides, and in gun accidents. This finding is completely contrary to the notion that guns are protecting us. The differences in violent death rates to children are large, and are closely tied to levels of gun ownership. The differences can not be explained by poverty, education or urbanization.

So as we enter the long and violent summer, we can look forward to our big city mayors calling for more action to restrict the easy access that children, criminals and other prohibited purchasers have to guns. Their pleas will be met with silence by our elected officials and candidates for political office. And most likely the tears of parents of dead teenagers will, once again, fail to be seen or heard by our government.

We are the only ones that can change this bleak prognosis and move our nation toward a more rational gun policy. Are you willing to get involved for the sake of our children?