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January 26, 2009

Yes We Can Save Lives

Over the past several years, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has proposed a series of positive steps that could/should be taken by the government to help reduce gun violence in America. For the past eight years, these proposals received either indifference or outright opposition by the Bush Administration. Thus, it was greatly heartening to see that—in its first week in office—the Obama Administration set forth several of our policy goals as part of its comprehensive Urban Policy Agenda.

The document in question reads as follows:

Address Gun Violence in Cities: Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.”

As refreshing as it is to see these meaningful goals put forward so boldly, we must remember that they cannot be achieved without support on Capitol Hill. Now is the time for each of us to step forward and let our elected Members of Congress know that there is strong public support for these measures, and a new administration eager to sign them into law. So pick up that phone, write that email, or pay that long overdue in-person visit to convey your concerns.

Can we do it? Can we finally put common sense laws on the books that will frustrate criminals who attempt to obtain firearms? To borrow a phrase from a campaign that preached hope and grassroots action ... Yes we can!

January 19, 2009

A New Era

A new era will be ushered in Tuesday with the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th president. Meanwhile, all across our country today we are celebrating one of America's true heroes, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

As I prepare to participate in one of the National Day of Service projects, I am reminded of some of the words of Dr. King about the problem of gun violence in America. In explaining his philosophy, he once famously said, “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” To Dr. King there was no such thing as “justified” violence.

I am also reminded of the last time I saw Dr. King. I was determined to get a photograph taken with him. I asked a stranger to use my camera and snap a picture as we talked. After anxiously waiting for the film to be processed, I was crest-fallen to find a great photo of Dr. King and my left hand. Now all I can say is “really, folks, that is my hand in the photograph.”

We at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence were blessed to have Coretta Scott King serve for many years as our Honorary Chairperson. Her advice was a tremendous asset to our work. In addition, we have been greatly assisted by the participation of Martin Luther King III.

I was greatly honored to be asked by Mrs. King to be a speaker at a King Birthday program in the King Center in Atlanta and later to be a speaker at a MLK Day program at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at a King Day service held jointly by two churches—one a predominately African American congregation and the other a predominately white congregation.

On my way Sunday to the massive “We Are One” concert on the Mall, I was brought to tears by a bumper sticker that was being sold on the street: “Dr. King marched so that Obama could run!”

What a great week this will be.

January 12, 2009

Armed and Rudderless

In the wake of less-than-stellar results in the November elections, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is in the process of selecting a leader for the future, with six men vying for leadership of the GOP. Last week, all six candidates appeared together in a debate at the National Press Club here in Washington.

The debate was moderated by the “radical rightist” Grover Norquist. You may remember Norquist as the man who said his goal for the U.S. government is “to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

In addition to being the head of a lobby group called Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist is a prominent member of the National Rifle Association Board of Directors (along with Ted Nugent and other luminaries). So it comes as no surprise that one of the main questions he asked the candidates for RNC was about how many guns they own.

As reported in an entertaining “Washington Sketch” by Dana Milbank in the January 6, 2009 Washington Post, current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan claimed four handguns and two rifles. Saul Anunzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, boasted of two guns. Ken Blackwell, former Secretary of State of Ohio, reported that he has seven guns—adding, “and I’m good.” Chip Saltsman, former chair of the Tennessee GOP, responded, “In my closet at home, I’ve got two 12 gauges, a 20 gauge, three handguns and a .30-06. And I’ll take you on any time, Ken.”

The image of a six man shoot-out at the GOP Corral is admittedly an intriguing one.

Equally odd was the response when Norquist asked each candidate to name his favorite Republican president. The tally, reported Milbank, was Ronald Reagan 6, Abraham Lincoln 0. Perhaps this helps to explain why candidate Saltsman recently mailed GOP party members a CD containing the parody song “Barack the Magic Negro.” And why a minority of right wing gun owners continue to cling to the belief that the Second Amendment gives them the right to overthrow our democratic government by force.

January 5, 2009

You Are a Citizen

As we enter the new calendar year and prepare for life under a new presidential administration, I am reminded of an admonition from the incisive journalist Molly Ivins. A few years ago, Molly wrote an essay exhorting Americans not to be cynical, to treasure the most magnificent political legacy any people has ever received.

In her words, we inherit certain powers and rights just by being born in this country:

"...For more than two hundred years people all over the world have been willing to die for a chance to live by these ideals. They died in South Africa, they died at Tiananmen Square ... You have more political power than 99% of all the people who have ever lived on this planet. You can not only vote, you can register other people to vote, round up your friends, get out and do political education, talk to people, laugh with people, call the radio, write the paper, write your elective representative, use your email list, put up signs, march, volunteer, and raise hell. All your lives, no matter what else you do...you have another job, another responsibility; you are a citizen. It is your obligation and requires attention and effort. And on top of that you should make it into a heck of a lot of fun."

Let us make one more New Year's resolution: to have a heck of a lot of fun pushing the Obama administration, the new Congress and our state legislators to seek creative solutions to the tired old problem of gun violence. It is our duty as citizens. Happy New era!