If only people described as being exploited as props, political footballs or background ads were asked how they feel about those labels, perhaps critics would think twice about applying them.
No better example of this misapplication was how the right wing of the GOP skewered the president after he invited 50 women who lost loved ones to gun violence to accompany him on stage last week. This was part of his continued drive to override congressional inertia and the muscular NRA to pass stronger gun control measures. “He is trampling on the memory of murder victims” and using them as props offered, an article in the Tea Party News Network.
The President and Vice President Biden also met privately with the women, hugged them and comforted them through their tears that had started flowing even as they stood at the White House gate awaiting clearance into the East Wing. They shared their memories of their loved ones who died too soon at Newtown, Virginia Tech, and in the Washington DC. area. I was also an invited guest as my youngest brother was shot to death on Thanksgiving Day in front of my mother’s home in Los Angeles in 1994.
Many of the women were moms not only grieving for their own children, but also over the never-ending stream of gun deaths of other children, such as the recent murder in Brunswick, Ga. of a 13-month old in his stroller during the robbery of his mother, a five months old being gunned down in his father’s lap in Chicago, where a mother recently lost her son, the fourth offspring to be murdered . Many came looking for a way to connect their loss to national efforts to change the violent culture that is killing our kids.
Most of the women I talked to had never been to the White House, never dreamed that their personal hurts would become a shared national pain and could be useful in the President’s campaign to stop gun violence.
“Honored not exploited,” was Theresa Williams’ self-description. Her son, Aaron Kidd, a Suitland High school student was shot and killed near his home in February. He was one of six high school students in Prince George’s County murdered since August. “I don’t want the president to back away because when the public mood shifts and the deaths keep mounting, I am left with my personal hurt. I feel my story backed up the president’s message.”
Emily Ward, whose son was shot and killed in The District in 1992 also challenged the word “prop” being applied to her. A photograph in The Washington Post showed the president bent over as she also held him. “While his critics can sit back and attack him, the president is out talking to moms, parents, students, teachers, law enforcement agents trying to get the guns off the streets. I feel humbled and moved by the president’s passion to do something.”
Many of the women, while touched by the emotional significance of the event, saw the event as part of a fledging movement not only to fight the NRA but also to punish those in Congress who are fighting the president’s proposals. Those measures include universal background checks, a federal gun trafficking laws and a ban on assault weapons, which Democrat Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, recently refused to bring to the floor for a vote.
While I believe in many quarters the national debate on gun violence gives a higher priority to the mass shootings in the suburbs than the massive daily murders in the inner cities, Ruth Marshall, a community activist I spoke to at the White House had a different view. “For decades black kids were being killed in the ghetto. The problem was ignored. Now...the culture of violence is no longer confined in one area..To be effective, gun reform must reach all.”
Marshall, who recently ran for the D.C. City Council in Ward 5, saw the President’s national campaign as a spark to ignite a growing effort to mobilize a gun reform movement. “Our children are being killed and it is up to the grass roots to make the Congress get off the dime and do what’s right. We have the power to get this done.”
What’s coming from the White House and the Congress may be good for a start, but most have too many loopholes or start from the premise that declining polls for gun reform since the December Newtown massacre mean public support won’t be sustainable. It is good that the president is not following the polls but listening to those demeaned as “props,” whose stories are strengthening his resolve to continue his campaign. For those who have to face life without their loved ones, polls can’t predict when it is time to move on.
Tough gun reform in my book would require that any person who is caught in public with an unlicensed or un-registered gun of any kind to receive a tough jail sentence and fine, a position that does not infringe upon the 2nd amendment rights to keep guns in their homes.
I don’t believe the hype that tough gun measures can’t be achieved. We are a nation accustomed to doing the right Big Things. We ended child labor, gave women the right to vote, sent our astronauts to the moon. We can also develop the political will to stop arming ourselves to death. Britain has done it, Japan has done it. Why can’t we?
Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell & Living Well: Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.