I agreed to write a commentary on Dan Gordon’s March 10
post about specialization versus general education (which strikes me as cogent
and wise), but I can’t get the image of Eve Marie Carson out of my head or the
horror of her violent death out of my heart.
Eve Marie Carson
was the 23-year old University of North Carolina senior and student body
president shot and killed execution-style last weekend, apparently for her car
and credit cards, by a sociopath with a handgun. Just days earlier, 18-year-old Lauren Burk, a first year student
at Auburn University was gunned down and left to die by the side of the
road. Her car was found in flames a
short while later in a campus parking lot.
These are just the latest in an
unrelenting string of school shootings.
There were five school shootings in just a one-week period last month
alone, culminating in the Valentine’s Day massacre at Northern Illinois University
that left eight dead and 15 wounded.
Since the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, there have been
more than 30 school shootings in the United States, claiming 88 lives and
leaving 125 physically wounded. The
psychological wounds are incalculable.
One shooting, at Virginia Tech in April of last year, accounts for 33 of
circulated photo of Charles Whitman, as a boy, holding two
rifles. Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 31 others in a shooting rampage
from the clock tower at the University of Texas Austin in August 1966.
School shootings make the
headlines, however there are tens of thousands of firearm-related deaths
every year (on average about 30,000 fatalities annually), most involving
handguns, that do not make the headlines but are equally devastating for the
victims, survivors, families, and communities.
What are we doing about this
epidemic of gun violence? What is anybody
doing? How can we tolerate this?
Meanwhile, the Congress holds
hearings to determine what banned substance may have been injected into Roger
Clemens’s ass. Why doesn’t the Congress
hold hearings to determine what can be done to address the problem of gun
violence in this country? Wouldn’t that
be a better use of their time?
There has not been any
meaningful gun control legislation passed in this country since 1994, when the Brady Handgun Violence
Prevention Act (imposing a five-day waiting period and background checks)
and the so-called Assault Weapons Ban were passed. Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 1968 Gun Control Act
(banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns). The former never would have been passed except for the attempted
assassination of Ronald Regan and the ceaseless efforts of his wounded Press
Secretary James Brady and his wife Sarah.
The latter act followed upon the assassinations of John F. Kennedy (with
a mail order rifle), Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy.
When I mention this to friends,
they always say the same things. The
Second Amendment is sacrosanct. The
National Rifle Association is too powerful.
Besides, there is nothing anyone can do. There are 192 million
firearms in civilian hands in the United States, including 65 million
handguns. The genie is out of the
The Second Amendment may be
sacrosanct, but its meaning and implications are notoriously unclear. The fact is no gun control law has ever been
overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on Second Amendment grounds. That includes local community bans on the
sale and possession of handguns.
(Ominously, this could change this year with the anxiously awaited
decision in Parker
vs. the District of Columbia.)
The gun lobby is very
powerful. But so too are the combined
forces of those who want stricter gun control.
Sixty percent of Americans support stricter gun control, according to
Research Center. Law enforcement,
medical professionals, educators, and big city mayors are powerful advocates
for gun control. The gun lobby can be
beaten back. Gun control needs to be
made a national priority.
According to the Department of Justice,
deaths by firearms fell steadily from 38,317 to 29,573 in the decade from 1991
to 2001, a decrease of nearly 25%. The reasons for this decline are
undoubtedly various and difficult to isolate and quantify, however, a thorough
and sustained analysis of them could lead to the development of strategies for
reducing gun violence even further. But we
sit on our hands and treat these horrific acts like natural disasters instead
of the social dysfunctions they are.
Shame on us.
--David Tebaldi, Executive Director, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities