Pamela E. Queen, a Democrat, represents Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates.
My emotions are deadened as, once again, lightning has struck my family tree.
The direct hit is to my cousin’s branch, first with the loss of her brother and two nephews from a botched home invasion; then with a tragic murder-suicide involving her son; and now with the shooting death of her grandson, Taiwon Dashon Dorsey, who had turned 21 this summer.
My cousin, who celebrated with me on the first day of the 2018 Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. My cousin, whose lifestyle is similar to mine. She also is raising a family in Montgomery County. She is a law-abiding, college-educated homeowner who is gainfully employed, active in her community and a loving, doting grandmother who enjoys sharing the accomplishments of her grandchildren.
Unfortunately, for mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers of black children, death of a loved one from gun violence is routine, commonplace and probable. Like a summer storm, it’s coming.
Firearm homicides are the leading cause of death for African Americans between the ages of 1 and 44. According to the Violence Policy Center, African Americans, who make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population, represent nearly 52 percent of all homicide victims, with 85 percent of those homicides by guns. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasize that African Americans are 10 times more likely than whites to die from gun homicides; and black children and teens are 14 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from gun homicides. In Maryland, for every 100,000 people, seven white people and 23 black people died from firearms in 2017.
Yet, this epidemic of gun violence, a widespread occurrence of a particular undesirable phenomenon, engenders no uproar, no call to action and no water-cooler conversations about the devastating effect on black communities that are already burdened with numerous socioeconomic woes attributed to lower wages, greater health disparities, lack of education, more illegal drugs and higher rates of incarceration. Adding insult to injury, most of these families that experience the loss of loved ones from gun violence seldom gain closure or a sense of solace that come when perpetrators are caught. African Americans are the least likely of any racial group to have crimes against them result in arrests; furthermore, these families lack confidence that effective, essential policy to address systemic root causes or to reverse an escalating trajectory of gun-related homicides will be enacted.
As a family member, friend, classmate, church member, work colleague and college professor, my too frequently conveyed words of comfort to grieving family members, “let me know what I can do,” accompanied by flowers, food, financial donations and other tangible gestures of kindness seem futile and no longer sufficient.
As a legislator, “let me know what I can do” must become an obligation to end senseless gun violence in my community.
The data are clear: Greater access to guns negatively affects public safety and reduces life expectancy. In the United States, gun-homicide rates are 25 times higher than other countries; and gun-related suicides are 10 times higher than other high-income countries. For all children, death by firearms is the second-leading cause of death, slightly lower than death by motor vehicles.
Being a legislator is hard because doing the right thing is often unpopular, but it’s time for sensible, balanced, essential gun-safety laws in the United States. Winston Churchill said it best, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else.”
I trust my Maryland General Assembly colleagues and my federal counterparts are ready to “do the right thing.” I am, and I will be ready when the General Assembly convenes in January.