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Grace Ross: Trayvon Martin + The Road To Smart Gun Policy

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Sunday found about 60 of us in a circle in the Peace Park at the corner of Winslow and Pleasant – we needed to gather, we needed a place to come together, to be with others in our strong reactions to the Zimmerman verdict – and our grief about not just Trayvon but Trayvon, all our additional youth lost in shootings and to reach for the hope that we can change what in our society drives this. My love and thanks for those who came together and the honest sharing among the diverse group of us there. I was pleased to by the depth of response on Facebook the night before – and the hearing that was going on on the many dozens of threads that cross my Facebook circles.

This piece was written before the Zimmerman verdict. Something is pushing us toward change, toward having to hear each other. I was more hopeful that under the public waves that are filled with the politics of hate and division, something else may be brewing – something that values the humanity of all of us – something that will make it so no one will carry again who can be so driven by prejudice and assumptions that they track an un-armed 14 year old and end up killing him... BUT first, we have to hear what is or is not working...

Yes, the gun control hearing in Worcester was held by the legislature for commentary on specific, proposed, state gun control legislation, but one thing that was completely clear was that the “public” there was mostly not “hearing” a thing.

One young adult told of losing 5 friends in shootings in the last year. A doctor told of surviving 5 guns shots in a workplace shooting, because the shooter had to reload and he had dragged himself away in that brief reprieve...

Some folks told of bizarre outcomes of some gun control laws – outlawing, for instance, standard training weapons but allow gun types highly linked to gun violence to remain legal.

Then, late in the day, hats off to Scott Edwards! I went to speak to him after testifying so I’d learn his name.

If I understood him properly, he’s a member of the National Rifle Association. He clearly talked about having guns in the house which he insists on keeping locked up; that way, neither teenagers nor anyone else can mistakenly get their hands on them.

Scott had actually listened.

The demographic division between those who seemed to kneejerk object to any kind of policy to control guns or ammunition or use of them or selling and buying were clearly white, overwhelmingly men, not all but largely suburban or rural residents.

The heart wrenching stories were from young adults and teenagers from the cities who’ve had friends, families, siblings mentors torn from their lives; they were overwhelmingly African American folks who lived in the city. A few heart wrenching pieces of testimony from people who had lived through gun shooting sprees – like the doctor above who had watched his friend’s head get blown off and got away badly wounded because the shooter had to reload his gun before he could keep firing.

How you could sit through these stories and not have your stomach twisted in knots is staggering to me.

Yet person after person got up having just heard the same story that had knocked me sideways and acted as if nothing had been said. They went on about their often theoretical right to their gun and whether these proposed laws would technically render them a criminal when they had been a law-abiding un owner their whole life. These laws, of course, are about the many ways our gun laws have gaps huge enough to drive through them – technically legal but lose enough that the shift to illegal happens in a flash.

Scott Edwards was different. He didn’t get up and change his opinions about the gun laws, but what he did do was to get up and acknowledged what he had heard: the diversity of life experience between rural, suburban and city situations; the critical importance of listening to the whole stories and getting their context and making decisions that reflected a state with divided cultures and divided needs around guns.

His act of listening and really hearing was a model and soothed my heart after listening to the amazing non-responsiveness to the stories being told.

There will always be individual stories of someone who could’ve saved a life if he’d had a gun or someone whose family was attacked violently including stories of rape where a gun made no difference at all.

The statistics at the hearing were enough to make you crazy: talking about whether gun violence was up or down based on whether laws had been written, changed, put into effect, gone out of effect. These were told ignoring other factors that are proven measures of the amount of gun violence.

The best proven correlation I know of, is whether the economy is doing well or not. Inner city violence, youth violence is dramatically impacted by how well or badly the economy is doing: this impacts whether folks have an option of getting decent paying jobs reasonably easily, pulling them away from a life of violence.

Of course, gun control can’t be done in a vacuum.

The flipside of the stories that was dramatic to me was the stories of the ways in which the specific language of a gun law excluded one gun that was not particularly dangerous and included others that had a long bloody trail behind them. The description of the difference between a semi automatic weapon that allowed a man who had been injured to be able to shoot a gun; he couldn’t afford to keep using guns with stronger recoil that harmed his muscles; such guns had led to serious injuries he’s never recuperated from. Those are real factors.

Since those who came are the strong voices on this issue, it was clear that the inability to hear was masking the real problem: our gun laws are a mess. They don’t accomplish what they mean to accomplish in many ways. There are critical life-saving goals that we need to accomplish with our gun laws that we have not managed.

As Scott Edwards pointed out in his testimony as somebody who wanted to have a right to have guns partly for personal protection he felt it was instructional – although he couldn’t quite figure out what the message was, but he noted: the young African American folks who had spoken no matter how much gun violence was going on around them did not express a desire to have a gun in their home. He thought that that was something we should all learn from that and I think that he’s right.


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