By Jamira Burley
Alumna, PFAW Foundation's Young People For Program
Eight years ago, in 2005, I was just a normal high school student. I faced my share of adversity, but nothing I thought I couldn't handle -- even after the repeat incarcerations of both my parents and all 10 of my older brothers. That is, until I received a phone call that changed not only the way I viewed the world, but also my place within it.
My 20-year-old brother Andre was shot and killed one month before his 21st birthday. His death devastated my family and still continues to hold a dark shadow over our lives today.
What continues to surprise and sadden me to this day is the fact that my brother isn't the first or the last. Why? Every single day in America, news stories flash snapshots of lives that once were. Years of a young person's life are funneled down to less than two paragraphs in the back pages of a newspaper. Burial plots are assigned and soon the names are forgotten in the media. Those lives are only remembered by the ones that loved them most and the heavy tombstone, bearing witness to the lives they once lived.
Stories like these are happening every single day in America, where young people are dying before they are even old enough to vote; where the price of leaving your home may mean death.
We lose more Americans to violence on our own city streets than on the battlegrounds of war. We have made kid soldiers out of our youth, criminals out of the disadvantaged, and funeral attendees out of us all.
Guns are becoming more accessible than textbooks and supermarkets. Yet we continue to serve them up to the unfit and unqualified, which is resulting in mass murders and mass shootings.
This begs the question: what can and must be done?
Young people, especially black men and boys, are being killed in our classrooms and city streets. The selling of fire arms to criminals is placing our family members, neighbors, classmates and coworkers at risk. In some states anyone can walk in to a gun show without an ID and purchase a firearm. That means a criminal or an unfit person could have access to a gun with 10 rounds or 100.
In addition to closing the private sale loophole, the following measures must be put in place if we want to stop one more person from falling victim to a bullet:
• Fix the gun check system in a way that will allow enforcement agencies to upload and share current and accurate information.
• Require ID and background checks for all gun purchases.
• Make gun trafficking a federal crime.
• Create common-sense laws that address what type of guns should be in the hands of average Americans.
• Address the high rate of crime in urban communities.
• Increase positive mental health accessibility without stigmatizing those who need and want it.
• Recognize that in urban communities, violence is related to a lack of economic opportunities and a hopelessness mentality among youth that needs to be addressed.
No one is saying that guns have to be eliminated, but like most other potentially dangerous things in America, restrictions need to be put in place for the sake of safety. Many of us agree that background checks and ID requirements are needed, and Americans are united in the belief that support for the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
My brother Andre and many others have been killed because of the lack of safeguards in place to protect their fundamental right to live. As an alumna of Young People For and a member of the Roosevelt Institution Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, both programs that empower young leaders to create lasting change in our communities, I know that inaction is not the answer. We can no longer sit on the side lines and allow gun lobbyists to place band aids on gunshot wounds. We need and must demand common-sense gun violence prevention measures.
The probability of another death increases every second we hesitate.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch released a report today chronicling the history and strategies of the radical groups and individuals who are working to prevent meaningful gun violence reform. While most Americans, including most gun owners, support common-sense gun violence prevention efforts, a small but vocal group of extremists has so far succeeded in blocking any attempt at meaningful reform.
The report, The Lobby Against Common Sense: The Right’s Campaign Against Gun Violence Reform and How We Can Defeat It, is available at www.pfaw.org.
“We cannot address the plague of gun violence in our country until we are able to have a reasonable debate about reforming our gun laws,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “Unfortunately, for too many years this debate has been dominated by an extreme and vocal fringe. These extremists equate gun violence prevention with ‘tyranny’; blame mass shootings on everything and everybody but lax gun safety laws; and push conspiracy theories about government confiscations of firearms.
“Stunningly, these extremists say that the real ‘radicals’ are Americans who support reforms to rein in the horror and devastation of gun violence. While these groups claim to represent American gun owners, they are in fact far out of step with most Americans, gun owners included. We hope that this report will help elected officials and voters understand the truth behind the forces that are trying to drag down meaningful gun violence reform.”
People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch monitors and exposes the activities of right-wing movements in the United States.
An Open Letter to Speaker John Boehner
Dear Speaker Boehner:
In the wake of a year teeming with incidents of heartbreaking gun violence, it came as quite a shock to see Congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX) announce yesterday that he is “excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber” for President Obama’s State of the Union address.
This so-called “patriot” has repeatedly threatened the life of the president.
With a gun in each hand, Ted Nugent once publicly called Obama a “piece of shit,” saying he “told him [Obama] to suck on my machine gun” and suggested that Hillary Clinton “might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” In the same incident, he also threatened Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein with gun violence.
At an NRA event last year, Nugent infamously warned that he would “either be dead or in jail by this time next year” if President Obama were re-elected. After People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch publicized the video of his comments, the Secret Service began an investigation of Nugent.
The First Amendment protects Ted Nugent’s rights to say offensive things, but that right does not extend to making threats of violence against public officials. And it certainly does not give Nugent a “right” to be granted a privileged position of honor as a guest of the House of Representatives at the President’s State of the Union address.
So today we are calling on you, as Speaker of the House, to disinvite Nugent from attending the State of the Union address. This is not a question of civility; it is a question of whether or not to tolerate violent threats. We cannot invite those who openly threaten the life of the president to be part of this celebrated tradition. Allowing Nugent into the House chamber for the address will send a clear message of condoning such threats.
In a country still reeling from recent shooting sprees and striving to find ways to reduce gun violence, it is unconscionable to invite to the State of the Union address a man who has repeatedly threatened to kill our nation’s president.
President, People For the American Way
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today praised President Obama for putting forward bold proposals to combat gun violence and urged Congress to quickly take action on the issue.
“Our dire situation requires bold action,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “We’ve seen too many American lives lost to senseless gun violence. The president is correct to recognize that there is no one solution to this national blight, just as there is no one cause. We must take quick and meaningful action to prevent further tragedies by restricting access to weapons of war.”
“Gun violence is a threat to everyone in America, but it particularly plagues young African Americans,” added Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. “We are morally required to do everything we possibly can to keep our children safe and free from fear, whether they are in the classroom or playing on the streets in their neighborhood, whether they live in Newtown or in Chicago or in the District of Columbia. These proposals are an important step in the right direction.”
Right-wing talk show host Steve Deace writes on his Facebook page that the public school system is partly to blame for the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, because public schools, he claims, promote a “culture of death.”
On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here.
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.
Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:
Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.
Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.
As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.
While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.
In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.
It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.