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Wake up, Capitol Hill

Another shooting tragedy erupts, and few have courage to talk gun control

Twelve people were killed and 59 were wounded early Friday at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Earlier this week, 18 people were wounded in a shooting spree near the University of Alabama.

What is America waiting for?

In a nation of common sense, these tragedies would break the national silence over our insane acceptance of guns. But the 1999 Columbine school massacre in Colorado did not do it. The 2007 Virginia Tech massacre did not do it. The 2011 Tucson massacre that severely wounded Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords did not do it.

The near-death of a congressional colleague failed to wake up Capitol Hill. Since then, there have been more than 50 mass shootings across the United States, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. None of them broke the silence, even though the killings have taken the lives of many innocent children, including a 2-year-old in the 2010 Mattapan massacre here in Boston.

No one really pays much attention to the daily one-by-one carnage, since the shooters are disproportionately young black men. Society dismisses it as gang-related or drug-related ghetto violence. Then we pretend to be “shocked” by mass atrocities in the suburbs, colleges, and movie multiplexes committed by young men who are not black. We pretend that the non-black assailants were gripped with individual evil.


We pretend because few in power have the courage to state the simple fact that these acts could not have been committed without America’s near-unfettered access to guns. The cowardice was evident yesterday in both President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. Obama called the tragedy “senseless’’ and “beyond reason.” Romney said the shooting represented “a few moments of evil.” Neither mentioned guns.

But it all makes sense. Aurora, Alabama, Mattapan, Tucson, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and the thousands of deaths by a single bullet that fall silently across the republic happen because we allow an evil level of lethality to circulate in our society. After Virginia Tech, the gun lobby had the audacity to say if we armed everyone, somebody would have gotten that killer first. The Aurora movie massacre carries that argument to its most lunatic extreme. Who would hit who in the panic of a dark theater? Several of the Aurora victims are reported to be in the military. They died in America’s ignored version of Iraq.


Gun control has so completely disappeared from debate that John Rosenthal, founder of the Newton-based Stop Handgun Violence, told me this week before the Aurora shootings: “I’ve never seen more spineless cowardice and lack of national leadership. Can you imagine the outrage if instead, 83 Americans a day died from hamburgers?”

Instead the conservative Supreme Court struck down urban handgun bans. Last year saw record gun sales in America, based on FBI background checks, as the gun lobby whips up utterly false fears about Obama taking people’s guns away. The total number of shot every year has risen from 89,000 a decade ago to 105,000 in 2010. Our firearm fatality rates for teens and young adults are six times that of Canada’s and 10 times that of Australia’s, countries which have stronger gun control laws. And it is even double that of Mexico, a country known for its terrible drug wars.

One major politician who got it right yesterday was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who co-chairs Mayors Against Illegal Guns with Boston’s Thomas Menino. He said prayers from Obama and Romney are not enough. “Maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do,” he said. “Guns are killing people every day. . . It’s growing. . . and it’s not just an inner-city, East Coast, West Coast, big-city phenomenon. Aurora is not a big city.”


There is no question that it is time, not just for the two men who would be president, but for all of us to act before the next American gun apocalypse.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at