Michael Nutter: John Lewis-led sit-in was no stunt. It was a demand for a nation safe from the overwhelming drumbeat of gun violence
What steps will we all commit to to make it stop, the way we agreed to steps toward safety after 9/11?
Editor’s Note: Michael Nutter, a CNN political commentator, is the former mayor of Philadelphia. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
When will the violence stop?
This is the question for which long-time national civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis is demanding an answer.
No, it was no stunt. Just as he defiantly marched across the Pettus Bridge 51 years ago to demand voting rights for black Americans, he and a cohort of colleagues have defiantly demanded the right to safety in their nation. They engaged in a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives for 24 hours and counting to push a vote that would prevent people who are on a terrorist watch list from buying guns.
When will the violence stop? When will it be at least significantly reduced? We need the answer now.
Why? We are at a critical point: Americans, who live in one of the most violent nations on the planet, exist in a state of perpetual shock, trauma, stress, dismay and fear of violence.
We can’t look away: the violence is in our collective faces courtesy of a 24/7 news cycle; it seems it’s in virtually every TV program we watch, every conversation we have; the question is there in all of our faces when we hear fresh news of new bloodshed: “When will it stop?”
When will we have the political courage to do more than just gasp in disbelief? We talk and talk about guns, loopholes, laws, politics, the gun lobby, Congress, political correctness, finger-pointing and agendas, but this talk adds up to a resounding silence. It equals death and destruction on a daily basis.
Orlando, unimaginable. San Bernardino, horrible. Charleston, sad. Newtown, broken-hearted. Aurora, frightening. And then there is the daily carnage on our streets. Philadelphia. Chicago. New York. San Francisco. Boston. New Orleans. Global bloodshed in Paris. Brussels. Tel Aviv.
Is it domestic terrorism? Is it international terrorism? Is it gangbangers, drug dealers, domestic violence, random street crime? Does it make any difference when your loved one is taken from you by gun violence? Of course it doesn’t.
Congressman Lewis and the House and Senate Democrats are taking action.
“We the people” of the United States of America have a violence problem, and we all know that the first step in “recovery” is to admit you have a problem. You don’t have to be a doctor to see this. Violence is a disease and it is spread like a virus at epidemic levels all across our country. It may not get the same attention as Ebola – or now, Zika – but it is ever present.
As with any disease, we need to study and analyze crime and violence, to better understand it so that we can develop a treatment, and then fund its implementation across our country.
We know we can do this. After 9/11, when nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on one day, America decided “never again,” and we changed the world of airline flight with new departments and agencies to ensure our flying safety. Now we get body scanned, are only allowed to carry small amounts of liquids on board and must surrender any prohibited items while we wait in line.
What’s more, the United States has spent billions of dollars to prevent terrorism. We witnessed a national response, a collective national agreement that we needed to do this to be safe in the sky, and we’ve been significantly successful. We have accepted these changes as the cost of being safe.
Yet, on the ground, a very different story. Last year in America more than 12,000 Americans were killed, murdered on our streets, from acts that were not about domestic or international terrorism – just your garden variety street-level violence.
The year before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10,945 people were killed by firearms. Averaged, this works out to nearly 30 people killed daily by gun violence.
That’s a “Sandy Hook” every day, but you won’t see that newscast featured everywhere, every day for weeks. Think of it: Every two days, on average, more people are killed than in one night at the Pulse Club in Orlando, but you won’t see us pause on that news in America. Those daily deaths are like background noise, mentioned in passing on local newscasts, our daily dose of death and destruction.
We’re better than that, America.
What is the answer?
America needs a national response comparable to our 9/11 response, with funding, equipment, personnel, training and a fully coordinated integration of efforts among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
We must offer more and better options to support and serve our young people, and protect them from being radicalized, whether this happens when they are traveling abroad, training and returning to the U.S., or sitting in front of a computer in their homes being inspired to violence through the Internet, or by engaging on a corner with the neighborhood gang.
I believe we still have faith in our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Do you? In his heartfelt response the day after the Orlando massacre, President Obama was right when he said, “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.” We decided we wanted to be safe in the skies; we need to decide if we will demand to be safe on the ground.
When will it stop? When we decide we’ve had enough, and we won’t allow anything or anyone to stop us from being safe on our porch, walking down the street, in a club, in a church, in a theater or even an elementary school. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
What are you prepared to do about it? Until we are ready to make some hard choices and tough decisions, nothing will change. The time is now for us to stop crying, to stop being numb and to do something similar to the public demonstrations and demands of Congressman John Lewis and others. Now!
Michael Nutter, a CNN political commentator, is the former mayor of Philadelphia. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.