According to Mark Twain, it was British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli - the self-proclaimed "blank page between the Old and New Testament" - who first said "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." It just may be that, Disraeli - who lived from 1804 to 1881 and served as Queen Victoria's P.M. from 1874 to 1880 - was the first person to understand the difference between news and "fake news," which he chose to call "statistics." Well, here's a frightful statistic (in its true sense): since 2013, there have been 290 school shootings in America. Moreover, in the first 45 days of 2018, there have been 17 school shootings, which works out to one every 63.5 hours.
As numbing as this latter statistic is, it becomes even more stupefying when one of the shootings takes place in in one's own backyard. Our son Ilan graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School many years ago (he has now been a practicing attorney for more than a dozen years), and our daughter Nurit, her husband Scott (also an attorney) and their daughter Claire, live within jogging distance of Stoneman Douglas. Just about any and everyone who lives in or next door to Parkland knows children who died or were injured in the Parkland massacre.
Sadly, there are all sorts of predictable responses from those who actually could make a difference - or else have a specific political ax to grind:
- The "our thoughts and prayers are with you" crowd of public officials who issue these 7 words and then do next to nothing else.
- The right-wing conspiracy theorists who blame the attack on an ISIS affiliate, or see the Parkland massacre as being the inevitable result of ethnic gang violence. (Believe it or not this one comes from '45's A.G. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who seems to have had no idea that Parkland is a largely upper-middle class Jewish town) and just last year was named "Florida's Safest City" by the Washington-based National Council for Home Safety and Security.
- Calls ranging from more metal detectors in schools, greater scrutiny of - and treatment for - people with mental health issues, and the arming every teacher in America (despite the fact that the current administration has drastically cut funding for all three) to reinstating the absolute ban on assault weapons, drastically curbing the number of ammo rounds per magazine and making it legally impossible for anyone on a "terrorist watch list" to purchase a weapon.
- Lastly, there are many who place blame squarely on the FBI, which was reportedly given information about the alleged shooter but failed to act upon it. Even as I write this last bullet point, the POTUS has Tweeted: "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!" (Needless to say, this Tweet drew an immediate negative response on social media. One Stoneman Douglas survivor Tweeted: "17 of my classmates are gone. That's 17 futures, 17 children, and 17 friends stolen. But you're right, it always has to be about you. How silly of me to forget. #neveragain"
Of course, for each and every one of the above-mentioned actions (and there are a lot of others which could be added) there are people who will tell you that "Guns don't kill people; people kill people," shout out "We've got the Second Amendment!" or urge that what we really need are more people locked and loaded . . . have cache, will carry.
And along with all this, Speaker Ryan, (who just this past Friday was at a fund raiser in Key Biscayne, less than an hour's drive from Parkland) has announced that Hell will freeze over before he'll bring any form of gun safety (a.k.a. "gun control) legislation to the House floor. To say that his stance is predictable is not surprising; to say that it will likely cause a mass national response is hopeful. With each passing school shooting, an increasing number of American students, parents and neighbors are demanding that Congress show both the guts the sanity and humanity to enact legislation with teeth that will stem the tide of this horrific "one school massacre every 45 days" reality. Without question, we feel powerless; we scream out into the night "what in the Hell can we do?" We fear that there is next to nothing we can do to change the direction of an administration and a Congress that cannot (strike that, will not) listen to us. Our frustration, our anger, is both palpable and perhaps - just perhaps - about to burst forth as the fuel for meaningful action.
So what can we do?
These are the first, most obvious steps:
- Do a little research: find out how much funding your senators, congressional representative, governor or state legislators have received from the National Rifle Association and how the NRA's political action committee (PAC) rates them. (Note to Floridians: Senator Marco Rubio is the sixth largest recipient of NRA funding: $3.3 million.)
- Write, call or email your senators, congressional representative, governor or state legislators demanding that they pass specific pieces of legislation - such as those mentioned above. If your senator(s), congressional representative, governor or state legislator is a Democrat, it is reasonable to assume that they are just as frustrated as you are. Nonetheless, write, call or email them and express your thanks. If they are Republican, the response (if any) will be what we call the "All due consideration" letter . . . i.e. "Thank you for writing . . . I will certainly give all due consideration to your point of view . . ."
- Contact your local Democratic Party and find out how to become a deputy registrar of voters. It's easy; it's rewarding, and can go a long way toward voting out members of congress who consistently stand in opposition to passing sensible gun safety legislation.
- Add your name to an ever-growing list of people demanding that members of congress immediately return all campaign contributions from the NRA or other gun lobbying groups. Make them put up - or explain themselves.
The first rule in the politician's playbook is "Get thyself reelected." In order to do this, one must first raise tons of money. When you or I donate to a candidate (whether incumbent or challenger), we generally expect nothing in return except an elected official who will agree with us most of the time. Not so when it comes to accepting unlimited contributions from billionaire- and corporate-created PACs. They expect something in return for their "investments." You don't vote the way they want, you'll find yourself challenged by a well- heeled opponent during the next election cycle. These funding entities (which, "thanks to" the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case were declared to possess the same the rights and protections as individuals) is one of the central reasons why it is next to impossible to pass rational gun safety legislation. Overturn Citizen' United and the NRA - plus all the other pro-gun PACs - will be neutered, defanged and declawed.
Overturning a decision of the Supreme Court is certainly not easy. But neither is it impossible. There are nearly three dozen groups collecting signatures, organizing events, marching and educating citizens on how to successfully drain this fetid swamp. Neutering, defanging and declawing the NRA (a lot of whose members actually favor gun safety legislation) is absolutely essential. Channeling our grief, anger and disbelief into positive action such as this can go a long, long way. It's been done before . . . and can be done once again.
89 years to the day (February 14, 1929) before the Parkland horror, there was another mass murder . . . the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," in which four of Al Capone's goons, armed with two Thompson submachine guns and two shotguns, murdered 5 members of the "North Side Gang" as well as two bystanders in a Chicago garage. Unlike today's media, newspapers across the country published photos of the seven bloody bodies. The nation was both horrified and outraged - at gangsters, at bootleggers and at the deadly violence created by Prohibition. Eventually, the shock and emotional nausea - not to mention the leadership of Presidents Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, congress and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI - led to both the repeal of Prohibition and the "Tommy" gun's demise. Eventually, this rapid-fire weapon would accompany GI.s onto the battlefields of Europe. But it wasn't only national shock and horror which led to the removal of Tommy guns; it was a concerted effort on the part of the people, the White House and Capitol Hill.
Gun safety can happen. Together, we can take the tools of mass murder out of the hands of deranged killers and haters of humanity. Together, we can place the lives, the safety and the sanity of our children above the "rights" of the merchants of death.
393 days down, 1,164 days to go.
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone