Opinion

The Divide: What will it take to make America safe again?

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The Divide: What will it take to make America safe again?

What will it take to make America safe again?

The shooting death last week of Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s adopted son’s brother, Christopher Hardy, immediately brought back sad memories for me. On Feb. 1, 2015, Super Bowl Sunday, my niece Sara was shot to death by her boyfriend in a domestic violence murder-suicide while attending Tulane Law School in New Orleans. When I was talking to Mayor Sheehan after the death of Christopher, she said I now know what it must have been like for you and your family two years ago. As Mayor Sheehan told The Alt’s David King, “This is the worst call [you] can get. . . . that it was family.” And, yes, it is the worst call you can get. I took that call from my brother-in-law on that Super Bowl Sunday evening. It is a call I hope to never have to take again. It is a call no one should ever have to get.

The divide between the tens of thousands of gun violence deaths each year (homicides, suicides, or accidental) in the United States, and the complete lack of any effort in Washington to enact legislation to protect us from this epidemic of gun violence continues to grow wider. The fear of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its threats to take-out sitting congressional members who may want to find practical ways to stem gun violence trumps Washington from making any effort to enact common sense gun laws.

Albany, NY; San Bernardino, Calif.; Chicago; Allentown, Pa.; Newark, NJ; Davis, Calif.; and on and on it goes. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters being killed in split seconds by people with guns. When will it stop? When will people stop using guns to settle arguments and domestic disputes? When will our federal elected officials take their oath of office to protect the health and safety of their constituents seriously and implement laws to prevent gun violence in our communities?

Will it take the shooting of a congressional member? Nope, just ask Gabby Giffords. Will it take the shooting of our president? Nope, four sitting presidents have been killed by gunshots. It’s too bad we can’t ask them about ways to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Will it take the killing of young children in our schools? Nope, there have been 75 incidences of school shootings in America since January 2014, and NOTHING has been done. (The most recent school shooting being in San Bernardino, Calif.) Our elected officials would rather bow at the knee and kiss the ring of the NRA for the selfish reason of self-preservation in the political arena, than do the right thing and take immediate and decisive steps to protect us from gun violence.

During my 12 years on the Albany Common Council, finding ways to prevent gun violence was my number one priority. In 2008, Albany established a Gun Violence Task Force (it took me six years to get the city administration to act on my legislation to create the task force). I was asked by a College of Saint Rose student why I was so adamant about getting this task force up and running. This is what I wrote back to her (and it is still my response today when questions arise about gun-related violence): “I was tired of the shootings, the deaths and the empty feeling I had after meeting with the families of victims of gun violence and wondering what can be done to combat this epidemic in Albany, let alone all across America.”

The gun violence task force met monthly for almost two years. The members heard from family members of those killed or injured by gun violence. The task force was there when the Albany community was shocked at the death of 10-year-old Kathina Thomas by a “stray” bullet and we needed a place to talk about our feelings. The task force spent hundreds of hours researching the plague of gun violence in our society and looking at best practices where such violence had been curtailed. The task force issued a 200-plus page report that had more than a dozen recommendations to help curb gun violence in Albany. Many of those recommendations were implemented, and over the past seven years homicides by gun in Albany are way down compared to the number we used to have in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

So, I ask Congress and the president: What will it take to make America safe again?

A few days ago, when chemical weapons were used to kill about 60 civilians in Syria, Mr. Trump and many in Congress condemned the killings. Mr. Trump, almost in tears, said: “Yesterday’s chemical attack, a chemical attack so horrific in Syria against innocent people including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies, their deaths was an affront to humanity. These actions . . . cannot be tolerated. . . .” Mr. Trump then went on to order the immediate bombing of an airfield where the chemicals were supposedly based. Well, Mr. Trump, according to the Centers for Disease Control, on average, 93 people are killed by guns each day in America. Many of those killed are “small children, and even beautiful little babies.”

Mr. Trump, 93 deaths a day by gun violence is horrific. It is an epidemic. Take immediate action, as you did in Syria, and enact protections for Americans from these “barbaric” acts of domestic terrorism. Stop shivering in fear of the NRA, Mr. Trump. You told us over and over during your campaign that you are not beholden to any lobbyist group, so stop acting as a representative of the NRA and start acting for what is in the best interest of all Americans. For, as Mayor Sheehan told The Alt and as too many others have sadly experienced, “I never imagined I would experience [gun violence] this directly.” And neither did I. The first day of February 2015, changed all that for me and my family forevermore.

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