It’s an article of faith that random violence can strike anywhere, but, when it strikes close to home, we are still surprised and shocked. My grandson went to a memorial service this week for the older sister of a friend of his. Her name was Deane Stryker, and she was 22 years old, a medical student, stabbed to death in the Winchester Public Library. You, too, may know her name because last Saturday she was the victim of a senseless act of violence by a mentally ill person now in custody.
As my grandson and his friends made plans to attend memorial services, I wonder how deep down they deal with such crushing events. My son sees community as a tapestry. We might live on one corner of the tapestry, but a horrific event like this puts a hole in the tapestry, affecting the community in its entirety. The tapestry will never be the same.
But it is the community’s coming together that helps people survive the tragedy. We’ve seen that in Newtown, CT, where parents of slain six-year-olds have committed their lives to ending gun violence and strengthening community resources for mental health and school services. And we’re certainly seeing it in Parkland, FL where young people are lobbying state legislators for better school security and an assault weapons ban. They’ve taken their advocacy to the White House and to Congress. The question is whether they will sustain the movement and, perhaps most important, go to the polls and vote.
Even corporations are standing tall on gun violence. A good dozen companies are severing their relationships with the NRA, Delta Airlines doing so even in the face of Georgia legislators taking punitive steps toward the company. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a huge sports retailer, will no longer sell assault-style rifles or high capacity magazines and won’t sell guns to anyone under 21 years. The CEO said the company no longer wants to be part of the problem. My own insurer, Chubb, severed its relationship with the NRA three months before the Parkland massacre. I support efforts to get FedEx to change its policy.
In the wake of the Winchester killing, some wondered mockingly whether we should move to ban hunting knives with ten-inch blades. Of course not, but the fact is that, if Jeffrey Yao had possessed an AR-15, there would have been many more slaughtered by the person known by his neighbors and others to be seriously mentally ill. Deane Stryker’s death reinforces, not undermines, calls to ban assault weapons.
The NRA has repeatedly shown itself out of step with the beliefs of the country. Recent polls indicate as many as 97 percent support stronger background checks (but will they eliminate the so-called gun show loophole, despite some 40 percent of gun sales occur as private transactions at gun shows?) And 83 percent support waiting periods to purchase guns. The problem is less the American people than craven politicians in Congress and state legislatures who have been purchased by the gun lobby.
If President Trump follows through on his stated willingness to assume leadership on the issue and take the heat off Congress for bucking the NRA, it could really be like Nixon going to China. It’s doubtful he’d support an outright assault weapon ban, but he says he is open to raising the age for buying an assault weapon to 21 years old. He told a bipartisan group of lawmakers meeting Wednesday that he wants very strong background checks, including for gun shows and internet sales. He also wants faster action on limiting access of mentally ill people to guns. He was especially clear about keeping “concealed carry” reciprocity out of any current proposal.
Given Trump’s 180-degree turn after originally supporting DACA, color me suspicious about his commitment on comprehensive gun safety. I think the President naïve or disingenuous when he says of the NRA that “they’re there. I think they want to do what’s right.” We always have to worry the someone else will have his ear tomorrow or the next day. But, if he follows through on what he is saying now and serious steps are taken, including repeal of the ban on public health research on guns, we could actually have a fact-based debate. Then there really is a ray of hope. And, as anti-Trump as I have been, I’d happily give him credit for getting this done.
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