America needs to talk about gun control in the wake of the Colorado shooting
Sympathy for Aurora's victims should not stop us addressing the fact that more than 84 people are shot to death daily in the US
The chorus of empathetic responses to the tragic shootings at the Aurora movie theater, near Denver, Colorado early Friday morning marks a stubborn refrain in a perennial American elegy. Different singers mouthing different words, but basically singing the same song.
Psychological profiles of the shooter emerge, along with portraits of the victims, while the political class closes ranks so that the nation can heal. Incanted tones to sooth a permanent scar.
All rituals serve a purpose. And this one is no different.
At least 12 people have died. Their families must be given space to mourn, and that space should be respected. But it does not honour the dead to insist that there must be no room in that space for rational thought and critical appraisal. Indeed, such situations demand both.
For one can only account for so many "isolated" incidents before it becomes necessary to start dealing with a pattern. It is simply not plausible to understand events in Colorado this Friday without having a conversation about guns in a country where more than 84 people a day are killed with guns, and more than twice that number are injured with them.
Amid all the column inches and airtime devoted to these horrific slayings, though, that elephant in the room will remain affectionately patted, discreetly fed and politely indulged. To claim that "this is not the time" ignores the reality that America has found itself incapable of finding any appropriate time to have this urgent conversation. The victims in Colorado deserve at least that. And these tragedies take place everyday, albeit on a smaller scale.
Speaking in Fort Myers, Florida on Friday morning, Obama was right to suspend the routine campaign rhetoric and play the statesman. Nobody wants to hear about Mitt Romney's tax records and stimulating the economy on a day like this. There will be other days for electioneering.
But he was wrong to insist on this:
"There are going to be other days for politics. This is a day for prayer and reflection."
For what are we to reflect on if not how this, and so many other similar calamities, came about. Those who insist that we should not "play politics" with the victim's grief conveniently ignore that politics is what caused that grief. Not party politics. But a blend of opportunism on the right that flagrantly mischaracterises the issue, and spinelessness on the left that refuses to address it.
Americans are no more prone to mental illness or violence than any other people in the world. What they do have is more guns: roughly, 90 for every 100 people. And regions and states with higher rates of gun ownership have significantly higher rates of homicide than states with lower rates of gun ownership.
The trite insistence that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" simply avoids the reality that people can kill people much more easily with guns than anything else that's accessible. Americans understand this. That's why a plurality supports greater gun control, and a majority thinks the sale of firearms should be more tightly regulated.
The trouble is that people feel powerless to do anything about it. The gun lobby has proved sufficiently potent in rallying opposition to virtually all gun control measures that Democrats have all but given up on arguing for it. In the meantime, the country is literally and metaphorically dying for it.
Gun control is possible. There are both a constituency for it and an argument for it. But it can't happen without a political coalition prepared to fight for it.
If America can elect a black president, it can do this.
Erica Groshen, Obama's nominee for commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, evidently sent her children to Camp Kinderland. We should probably look at every educational institution any child of any nominee has attended to make sure we don't turn any Communist into a government appointee.
But since I don't have time for that, let me tell you some of the things we do at camp that the ALG and Daily Caller would consider subversive.
1. We sing civil rights songs, which must sound like nails on a chalkboard to them.
2. We sing songs from other countries in languages that aren't even American.
3. We learn about countries that aren't even American.
4. We commemorate the Holocaust.
5. We commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
6. We make really good friends.
7. We have socials where we dance.
8. We go swimming in the lake.
9. We make collages—and yes, we do make dreamcatchers and God's eye.
10. We play soccer, though not very well.
In all seriousness, as an alum and former counselor and the director of the soon-to-be-released documentary film about the nearly ninety-year-old Camp Kinderland, I know the camp intimately enough to say that involvement with it only enhances a person's abilities as a citizen and public servant. ALG's report, which (mis)informs yesterday's Daily Caller article attacking Groshen, quotes me as saying that "The values and the politics are built into the programming of the camp."
That is true. And the core values of Kinderland can be traced back to old roots. Principle One was Menschlichkeit—the Yiddish word for humaneness—that thrived in the caring for others among impoverished, oppressed Jews in Eastern European towns, and in the intellectual and industrial centers of Eastern Europe cities. Jews often participated in and often led intellectual and social movements for fairness and justice for all, which included a concern for life beyond one's self and one's group, and the commitment to end injustice and make a better life for all humankind.
As campers, Erica Groshen's kids would have lived in bunks named after people that lived by the principles of Menschlichkeit—Hannah Senesh, Harriet Tubman, Shalom Aleichem, Emma Lazarus, Woody Guthrie and others, Jews and non-Jews alike whose lives made a difference for other people. Unlike most other sleep-away camps, there are no color wars at Kinderland but rather the World Peace Olympics, where the cultural program, learning, and cooperation weave their way through athletics. And, oh, yes, the sports shack is named for Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente, for the major league outfielder who died in a plane crash on his way to Nicaragua to distribute food and supplies to earthquake victims.
A parent visiting Kinderland would see kids singing songs about peace, civil rights, workers' rights and love; dancing hip-hop and folk dances; debating about ecology, race, gender, law and more, both in history and the future. It is no surprise that Kinderland campers often apply their study and discussion to action, for that is what being a true human being, a mensch, means in the core tradition of the camp.
The Kinderland I know and that Groshen and her children would have known is a place that welcomes all, and tries to make children nothing more—and nothing less— than the ideal at the heart of Menschlichkeit. As one counselor says at the end of my film: "We're trying to teach people how to be a mensch." That's the story that the Daily Caller should be writing, but to say that Erica Groshen sent her kids to a camp with humanitarian roots would not make a headline.
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