Newtown woman, US civil society call for movement against gun violence
Can the US overcome a fatal block on legislation some say would prevent the recent rash of mass-shootings?
Much as lobbyists and the firearms industry aim to address the issue of mass-shootings in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, Newtown residents and US civil society are struggling to find a way out of a legislative stalemate they believe is keeping guns in the hands of the murderers who claimed a host of American lives in 2012.
Amy Domini is a resident of Newtown, Connecticut who attended the elementary school, where 20 children and six adults were killed in a hail of gunfire Friday.
Here's what she had to say to Vancouver Observer readers:
I grew up in Newtown when it was a dairy farm center, population 4,000. Sandy Hook Elementary School was brand new when I began attending second grade there. I've watched, with limited interest, many reports on many atrocities. But I spent most of Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a cycle of tears.
Innocence lost. That's what I keep thinking. I suppose I am referring to my own innocence, for that's what the town gave me. The Newtown of my childhood was a hilly wonderland. My childhood was wandering around woods alone, finding a vernal spring, staring into the eyes of a small warbler, following a snapping turtle across a cow pasture. Or it was in small groups, the neighborhood kids meeting in a graveyard, calling ourselves the Vampire Club. Bowling for 25 cents in the basement of the town hall. Suffering the boredom of church. Camping out in the back yard. And yes, learning to shoot, with pride, the ground hogs that popped up with great regularity.
The madness must stop. I will be doing what I can, and hope all of you will be too.
A fatal impasse
A rash of high-profile mass-shootings like the one that struck Domini's hometown last week spanned the United States this year.
In July, a gunman killed 12 people in Aurora, Colorado at a midnight showing of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. The next month, another gunman affiliated with White Supremacist groups, whom many said was targeting Muslims, killed another six people at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
Momentary discussions on 'gun control' punctuated each of these incidents, but neither of the candidates in the November presidential election made a firearm ban part of their campaign platforms, fearing a crippling public outcry against any abrogation of the Constitution's Second Amendment “right to bear arms.”
The start of a movement?
An activist and teacher based in Oakland, California, Kristin Hull, believes the killing of young children in the latest massacre may be a decisive event in the nation's push to ban firearms.
“I think the possibility is there for this to become a movement. This one has a different energy around it than others have in the past. We are really all feeling that it's time to end violence now and people are ready to take a stand,” Hull said.
“The solution has to be multi-pronged and it has to come from every different level. Legislation is a start.”
Phone call advocacy
Hull spent nearly 30 minutes on hold, phoning the NRA Monday.
“I was thrilled that it was taking that long, because I took it to mean that so many people were calling [in response to Newtown], so I felt a kind of solidarity with them,” she said.
When Sarah from the NRA picked up, Hull says she told her “I'd like to register my complaint.”
“As soon as I said that, she said, 'Ok, you have registered your complaint,' and hung up.”
Still, Hull is confident in imagining a national movement to come. She believes it will orient itself in a various ways, distinct from the US' public outcry against economic injustice during the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread around the globe.
“I think it's going to take lots of different forms. Some will be behind the scenes, calling congressmen... I wanted to make it easy for them to act. It' think the candle light vigils will continue. Marches in Washington,” she said.
Renowned political activist and co-founder of CODEPINK, a women's activist organization that has long been a vocal in various leftist political movements from the rallies against Iraq and Afghanistan to the Occupy movement, also believes there's something brewing amid the socially minded in the US.
Her answer to the legislative impasse that leaves Americans like her feeling powerless amid a series of mass-shootings is a re-orientation of the media's treatment of the shootings.
“The media tells this as a story about the government needing to fix this problem. If you say governments are going to fix this problem, you quiet people down.”
Evans believes removing oneself from the US culture of violence is a choice individuals need to make for themselves.
“It's a responsibility of the people of the United States to ask themselves how they participate in creating a violent society and what they can do to change it […] We are all participating in it.”
A financial framework
Sound economic leadership may also be crucial to combatting the US' mass-shooting pandemic.
Both Hull and Evans worry that the US' plans to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff that analysts say could return the nation to crippling recession will mean cuts to mental healthcare necessary for people like the gunman identified in the Newtown shootings, Adam Lanza, whom various media have said suffered from autism.
“We create forms of austerity that don't allow funding for mental health care, where we erode values of austerity. Instead of care, we call it 'socialism' and we call it 'evil,'” Evans said.
Not all men are created equal... in the US public conscience
Both Hull and Evans also explained that racial dynamics are playing heavily into the sudden outcry against this latest instance of gun violence.
As an educator based in Oakland -- historically a hub of the nation's African American community, Hull explained that the fact that many of the victims in the latest massacre were predominantly white seems to have aroused a stronger response.
“I live in Oakland – I've been working in schools for years. We have shootings of our children of color all the time. We aren't angry – we are happy this issue is finally getting some traction,” she said.
Evans echoed Hull's sentiment. “I wish this kind of outpouring would have happened for Trayvon Martin,” she said, referring to the controversial death at gunpoint of an African American teen in Florida.
Some deaths matter far more than others in the US public conscience, Evans observed.
Despite the outpouring of anger over mass-shootings that has driven even some Republicans to oppose the NRA's bid to maintain gun ownership rights, Evans said, the US public have largely ignored the children killed by violence the world over.
“There is no mention of 157 innocent kids that died in Pakistan from our drone attacks,” she said.