On Wednesday January 16, scarcely a less than a week before he is sworn in for his second (and last) term as President, Barack Obama unveiled 23 executive actions designed to curb gun violence. In a speech to the nation, President Obama turned to the Constitution in making his case, implicitly pointing out that the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms should not infringe on the 1st Amendment right to Free Speech and Assembly, should not infringe on the right to practice whatever religion one chooses, and should not infringe on the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness delineated in the Declaration of Independence. And in making his case he argued that we’ve got to do more to protect not only the children of Newtown, but the children of Chicago and other cities wracked by gun violence.
President Obama should be applauded for finally taking on the gun manufacturing lobby. Gun manufacturers have used the National Rifle Association for decades, cloaking their desire for profits under the mantle of the 2nd Amendment. And conservatives scared of “big government” (particularly when led by an African American democrat) have made an explicit choice to support big business here. The result has been the gradual elimination of common-sense laws and regulations designed to curb gun violence.
But a perusal of Obama’s policy proposals suggest that he doesn’t quite go far enough. In particular he doesn’t deal with the primary weapons used to deal death in cities and responsible for the epidemic of violent death across our country—handguns. The day Obama unveiled his policies the first story of the Detroit evening news was of a teenage student shot in the leg across the street from her high school. An innocent bystander, she was caught in the crossfire as an argument between three other teenagers turned into a gunfight.
No assault weapons were used.
Over the past few decades I’ve lost two cousins and my best friend to gun violence. Perhaps one of them was killed by the assault weapons President Obama seeks to ban. But probably not.
We need to do more. We need an aggressive push to hold gun retailers accountable for the weapons they sell, like pharmacists. We must require licensed gun owners to undergo thorough background checks and training. We must fund more research examining the causes and consequences of handgun violence, like any public health threat.
This will not be easy. In fact, given the political context it’ll be exceedingly difficult. A number of political representatives are staunch supporters of the gun manufacturing lobby. And a number of political representatives, while not gun lobby supporters, are scared enough of their influence to hold their legislative tongues. Plenty more are beholden to gun manufacturing lobby money.
Given all of this it’s going to take the thousands of individuals directly affected by gun violence to take a stand and to make their presence felt. Efforts like the creation of the Sandy Hook Promise and Representative Giffords’ X are valiant steps in the right direction and should receive our support. But these efforts must be combined with ones that focus on the routine everyday violence marring the daily lives of people of color, as well as ones that provide those directly affected an opportunity to share their own stories.
One idea, one picture, can touch millions. With the proliferation of smartphones and GPS-enabled cameras and the creation of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram it is now possible to swiftly upload geocoded pictures and ideas across the globe. And thousands of people communicating the same idea can change the world.
Four years ago social media helped elect a President.
A little over a year ago social media helped put economic inequality back on the political agenda.
This year, social media will turn the tide against our pathological acceptance of gun violence, through a platform for the purpose of spreading stories that turns the numbers of gun deaths into personal realities. It is not enough to discuss painful but distant abstractions like accidental shootings, domestic violence, criminal violence, crimes of passion, suicide. Those who know gun violence firsthand can lead by showing the rest of us your worlds, and those who don’t know that reality will have a chance to feel the weight of the waste and sorrow we invite upon ourselves with our destructive unconcern for the tide of violence we allow.
To this end I am committed to creating this platform and using it to change the conversation about gun violence and legislation designed to check the abuses of the gun manufacturer lobby. But I need technical assistance, and I need people willing to share their stories.
If you, or anyone you know has been the victim of handgun violence, take a geocoded picture of the place the gun violence occurred, the time and the date, and upload it to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and Instagram with the hashtag #endhandgunviolence.
We will take the geocoded data attached to these pictures and stories, and will map them, along with information about local, state, and national political representatives.
Gun violence does not only affect those directly wounded. Gun violence affects our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and play-cousins. Gun violence affects our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches, our homes, our playgrounds. It is an epidemic, a contagion that we should treat the same way we treated polio.
But we can’t treat it without acknowledging it. And we can’t acknowledge it unless we have a conversation.
That conversation begins today.