The Sound of Silence
After the initial shock of Virginia Tech, the early media buzz about gun violence has vanished as suddenly and as completely as summer morning mist. None of the major 2008 candidates have even alluded to the issue. There are no serious initiatives in the Congress and the public at large seems to have pressed the snooze alarm, at least until the next bloody wake-up call. Why do we continue to tolerate, without discussion, 30,000 guns deaths per year—far more than any other rich country? Clearly, the reach of the gun lobby is so powerful, that most politicians of either major party have been intimated into silence.
The cost of this enabling silence is enormous. On average, 80 Americans die every day from gunshot wounds. This means that in the month since Seung-Hui Cho savaged 32 families, 2400 more Americans have died from guns. This is far more than occur in the comparably combined populations of Italy, Germany, England, Wales, Taiwan, and Japan in a whole year! How do we explain gun-death rates that are 6 times lower in the high-income countries of Europe and 95 times lower in the rich countries of Asia? While social and cultural factors play their part, the obvious key to these enormous discrepancies is the fact that countries, like those listed above, strictly control access to firearms. We do not.
The thousands of gun deaths in America are not faceless statistics for me. They all have the same face, that of my daughter Claire. Last December, my 22-year-old was shot to death by her ex boyfriend in a Virginia shopping mall; he committed suicide at the scene, using a perfectly legal handgun. Claire was a brilliant student at Old Dominion University, a gifted vocalist, and dearly loved by all who knew her. Yet as preciously unique Claire is to this proud father, she is just one of a growing army of America’s best and brightest wasted in a largely preventable epidemic of gun violence.
America’s silent consent to this daily tragedy is not soundless to us who have been personally touched. We cannot silence the bodiless voices of our dead; nor can we turn away from the questions their deaths pose. However silent the public at large or our politicians, the voices of our loved ones will not let us rest until we know why it is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that kids in America are 16 times more likely to be murdered by guns, 11 times more likely to commit gun-suicide, 9 times more likely to die in gun accidents than in 25 industrialized countries combined! And why is it that in the United States of America death by gunshot is the second cause of death of people under 19 years of age? The unspoken accusation of our slain children cuts very deep: we are failing in our most sacred obligation as parents: to protect our children.
When my daughter was killed, the question that consumed me was, “Why, my Claire?” But in a nation awash in almost 200 million firearms, where an insidious gun culture glorifies the guns-blazing action hero, where otherwise decent people invest their guns with transcendent values like “freedom,” where too many believe that “pro-life” and “pro-gun” are synonymous, I have come to realize that my question was inappropriate. I now ask, why not my Claire? In gun-struck America, why not anybody’s child?
Long Beach, New York
May 15th 2007