Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. But that’s unacceptable. As others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t ‘too soon.’ It’s much too late. ~ Ezra Klein
“But you have to choose to just not take the status quo anymore. The school shootings. The mass shootings. You. Gun violence feels too big, too powerful to stop. But it’s not too big for you to take some real, meaningful actions. You control what you decide you can live with, and what you can’t. You can choose whether you do something, or do nothing. You are not powerless.” ~ Jennifer Rosen Heinz, Parents
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” ~ Matthew 26:52 – King James Version
Thank you for joining me for Part Two of my three-part series on how book banning, gun violence and the restriction of reproductive choice affects the workplace, and everyone else everywhere. You may see Part One here.
Last time I wrote about the misguided banning of books and speech and (and works of art). This time I will focus on gun violence. The situation is such that workplaces should add onsite gun violence to their disaster recovery plans, and perhaps review their own gun policies.
I wonder if the irony is clear — that there are those who will make it hard to read books but easy to shoot guns.
History and Background
Back in the 1950s when I was a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago — in the shadow of the city’s famous steel mills, about six miles from where community organizer Barack Obama would someday work and not far from where Michelle Obama would grow up in her South Shore neighborhood, near where the storied gangs and infamous organized-crime mobs roamed — my friends and I played hopscotch, tag, rode our bikes and roller skated, unsupervised and without fear. We would go to what we called “the school store,” a small neighborhood mom & pop convenience store to buy penny candy, notebooks, yo-yos and comic books. We played and traversed the neighborhood from the time the last school bell rang until the factory whistle blew, signaling time to go home to do homework and get ready for dinner. We were safe from guns at school, at the school store, on the sidewalks and in our homes. Our parents were safe from guns at their places of work and while traveling to and from. We had not a single worry that we would be shot with a handgun, rifle or AK47 while going about our normal daily routines.
The same has been true of my adult work life; throughout my four-decade career, I’ve never feared gun violence in any job I have held anywhere in the big cities where I have worked.
Fast-forward to 2023, and the number one killer of children is death by gunshot. And, since the turn of the 21st century there have been four times the number of mass shootings in the workplace as there have been in schools. What happened along the way between then and now? Here are some thoughts:
Mental Illness – Many of our elected officials blame mental illness for the current mass shootings. But the fact is, mental illness has always existed, and studies have shown that it plays a minor role in today’s gun violence. On the flip side, fear of gun violence has raised anxiety 88% among the American population, according to a survey commissioned by Evolv Technology, up from one-third of Americans in 2019, according to the American Psychological Association. Also, from the Evolv-commissioned survey, today 60% are worried about gun violence in the workplace versus 53% in 2021. That anxiety has to have a negative affect on the workplace as a whole. How does anxiety among employers and employees, their contractors, shareholders and customers about a gun incident at work, on the way to and from, or at their children’s schools affect their ability to give their best to the job?
Mental illness is also a worldwide issue, but it’s largely the U.S. that has widespread gun violence. Ironically and tragically, those who continue to blame mental illness for the increasing mass gun slaughters are the same folks that have opposed expanding mental health services in schools as well as voting against a bill that would provide better access to crisis intervention for mental health and substance abuse patients. These same folks also do not seem to be concerned about the overwhelming number of guns in circulation (1991 report and 2023 report) that are not just for the military, local law enforcement, sport hunting and self-protection. I believe that most Americans would agree that we need an increase in access to and affordability for mental health treatment and gun safety laws, and a decrease in the number and types of guns in circulation.
The Second Amendment – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Those simple words were left unchallenged for nearly 150 years, until United States v . Miller in 1939.
I agree with those history scholars who believe that the words, “well-regulated” and “Militia,” represent the thinking in 1789, and that the Second Amendment’s intent was to ensure that the states were ready to help the national army defend against a foreign invasion. The concept was similar to today’s well-regulated National Guard, but back then, as the nation was in its infancy, it was necessary for ordinary citizens to be deputized in order to have enough people to form a state militia. Obviously, that situation does not exist today, as the U.S. has a massively strong federal military and states have well-regulated and well-trained National Guard units. In the view of many Americans, we have fulfilled the goal of the Second Amendment and it is an obsolete amendment.
However, in 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment “guarantees an individual right to possess firearms independent of service in a state militia and to use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, including self-defense within the home.” But even with that interpretation, regulation of firearms remains a key factor. Why, then, the holdup with regard to sensible regulation? Why are we upholding the “right” portion but not the “regulation” portion?
The NRA – The NRA of yesterday bears little resemblance to its modern iteration. For example, here is the NRA Pledge of 1954: “I certify that I am a citizen of the United States; that I am not a member of any organization which has as any part of its program the attempt to overthrow the government of the United States by force or violence; that I have never been convicted of a crime of violence and that if admitted to membership I will fulfill the obligations of good sportsmanship and good citizenship.” Back when my friends and I were playing outdoors and our parents were not worrying that we might be gunned down, the NRA was actually for gun safety regulations and against overthrowing the government. But in 1994, then NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre wrote that “the people have the right, must have the right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.”
The NRA morphed from an honorable and reasonable organization to a radical entity that strong-arms politicians to allow the proliferation and easy access to the guns that are now killing people in escalating numbers. But while some believe that the NRA’s power has diminished, one political party remains dug in. And apparently that party opposes any gun safety legislation because it fears the 10% of the population that it needs to win primary elections.
I guess the NRA and its enablers did not get the memo that after nearly two-and-a-half centuries, the United States is an established democratic republic whose grand experiment is a nation governed by the people and based on law and order, not extremism and chaos or autocracy and monarchy.
There have been a number of laws enacted and Supreme Court rulings regarding guns in America — some helpful and some hurtful. They began, of course, with the Second Amendment of 1791, and include the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, United States v. Miller in 1939, the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, the Dickey Amendment of 1996, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which included a ban on assault weapons), the Tiahrt Amendment of 2003, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (“NICS Act”), District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, and, just last year amazing breakthrough for gun safety, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022.
But these laws and decisions taken all together, as a nation we seem to take one step forward and two steps backward on reasonable and effective gun safety regulations. The historic tug of war between those who value guns and those who value lives came to a head in 1999 with Columbine. And while we cope with the horror of school children being shot, we must also remember that schools are also workplaces for teachers, coaches, librarians, nurses, pyschologists, administrative and custodial staff, security staff and other workers.
What Is Happening Now
Before Columbine, neither my husband and I nor our daughter feared gun violence at her school. But on April 20, 1999, when the unimaginable happened at the time that she was headed toward her eighth-grade graduation, that event dramatically changed the way we — as well as all students and parents of that era — viewed safety in schools. It ushered in an era of grief counseling, practice drills — not for fires but for escaping bullets — and a disquiet that overshadowed the joys of those years. And that was just the beginning.
According to The Washington Post, there have been 352,000 school shootings since Columbine. We cannot know about or recall each one, but certain ones come to mind when we hear of another shooting: West Nickel Mines Amish School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and Robb Elementary School. And that doesn’t count the number of college shootings.
In addition to schools and colleges, there are many other workplaces that are under attack by planned or random gun shootings, such as most recently at supermarkets, churches, malls, medical centers, banks and concerts — businesses that employ workers in various positions. And let’s not forget about the history of post-office shootings.
According to the Violence Project, most mass shootings occur in workplaces (offices, factories, etc) and disgruntled workers usually are at the core), followed by the aforementioned retail establishments; the report also revealed that there have been more shootings so far this year than there are days.
And, as we’ve seen recently, the most innocuous actions have prompted deadly shootings:
When was the last time you, your spouse or partner, or your teens or kids, knocked on someone’s door to take orders or deliver Girl Scout Cookies, sell candy for a school fundraiser, canvass for a political candidate, obtain signatures for a petition, deliver misdirected mail or package to a neighbor, drop off a casserole to someone, check up on someone, deliver a Meals on Wheels dinner or ask the neighbors to, I don’t know, keep the noise down? Nowadays, that might not seem like a good idea as people are being shot for knocking on the wrong door, pulling into a driveway by mistake, getting into the wrong car or asking the neighbor to fire their gun elsewhere so their baby can sleep! I certainly have done most of those things, and I’ve been on the receiving end of these actions. It happens! But with what amounts to domestic terrorism, I wonder if we can do any of these things anymore. What if your child becomes lost somewhere at night (GPS’s don’t always work perfectly everywhere), where no public establishments are open, and has to stop at someone’s home to ask directions? And what about those road rage incidents that involve guns? Just think of all the “what ifs” there are in our lives that we consider normal that could get us maimed or killed.
I come from a long line of gun-owners and hunters (both for food and sport), and spent a portion of my childhood visiting my relatives in the north woods, most of whom had their guns in cases on full display. As a city gal born and bred who has not served in the military or in law enforcement, I’ve never touched a gun, let alone owned or operated one of any kind (although my husband did when he was in the military, and my mom could shoot a rifle growing up in those north woods). And while I deplore hunting, I don’t begrudge anyone their hunting firearms or guns they keep for protection. But I am not a fan. (My country cousin and I were fired upon once during hunting season up north, even though we were wearing the requisite red jackets and hats. So, yes, not a fan of guns. And I certainly don’t approve of open-carry laws.)
We are at a watershed moment regarding gun violence in America. People of all ages are being mowed down with bullets in ever-growing numbers while — again — simply attending classes from elementary school to college, shopping at the mall, visiting houses of worship, sitting in a movie theatre, catching a concert or just showing up for work one morning.
And, along with the lives lost are the lives ruined. Families are forever changed after losing a loved one to gun violence, and whole generations of children are damaged after such experiences. The cumulative impact of gun violence on our country is pushing us toward a national calamity. Hence, we can no longer stall or look the other way with regard to passing strong federal gun safety legislation. How can we require licensing to operate a vehicle and require registration and insurance to own one, and impose age requirements for purchasing tobacco and alcohol and not do something to require the same or more to own and operate a gun?
What Can We Do?
It is imperative that the U.S. pass comprehensive gun management and safety legislation. In my view, optimal gun legislation — and perhaps a new Constitutional amendment — should include:
- Ban on assault weapons and all accessories for civilians
- Amnesty for the surrender of illegally obtained weapons and accessories – such as Serbia and Australia have done
- Buy back for legally obtained assault weapons and accessories
- Deep (er) background checks and strong (er) Red Flag laws for all sales, including private sales, with a reasonable waiting period to gather information
- National Registry for all gun owners for each weapon, no matter how the weapons were obtained (store or private purchase, gift, etc.)
- Licenses or permits required for each gun, and in order to get a permit, both written and field tests must be passed. Licenses and permits must be renewed periodically.
- Insurance requirements to cover liability in case of harm to individuals and property.
- Training required for new owners and renewed permits that includes how to operate each individual weapon, how to care for it and safety requirements.
To get to the point of making our country safer for all, we need to (1) vote for government leaders who will boldly and confidently craft and vote for the legislation we need, (2) contact existing officials to demand gun safety legislation and (3) peacefully demonstrate. We all should follow the example of Gen Z, which has been most active and adamant about getting laws on the books that will save their lives. Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of sensible gun management; now is the time to get very loud about it. Some of our elected leaders are getting loud, as well as creative, and we have to make sure they remain in office to get the job done.
The usual mantra of the pro-gun politicians following a gun massacre is to send “thoughts and prayers” and state that “now is not the time” to discuss gun legislation, and criticize those who do want to address how we can prevent more deaths by firearm as “politicizing” a tragedy. But this posturing has been undermined by the swift signing into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee a bill that protects gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits in the wake of the March 27 Nashville school shooting. The hypocrisy is mind-blowing.
And, while I am wrapping up this post, another fatal gun shooting has occurred in New Mexico in which a teenage shooter seemingly fired randomly into homes and at cars.
We cannot continue to allow a small number of radicals condemn the rest of us to live in fear of gun violence. You can find out who your elected officials are and how to contact them by going to: usa.gov/elected-officials. And don’t forget to vote in federal, state and local elections because they are all important. Together, we can turn the tide on gun violence. We must.
Please join me soon for Part Three of this series.
Until next time,
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