Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

What About the Gun? by Janaye Ingram

Mar 23, 2012

March 23, 2012

Over the past few days, I have been overcome with emotion and consumed in general with the American tragedy of Trayvon Martin. Television has been dominated by the story, it’s been the topic of conversations over dinner and around the water cooler, it has spurned mass mobilizations in Sanford, Florida and around the country including several this weekend in cities like DC, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Twitter and Facebook have been overrun with stories about the case. Bloggers and every individual with a thought about the murder have weighed in through one medium or another. I personally have received numerous phone calls, text messages and emails from friends and family asking what National Action Network is planning to do about it. A mass rally in Florida that we coordinated on March 22nd was well attended and I’m sure had we sent buses, they would have been packed to the hilt.

I’ve heard every aspect of the story discussed. From the first whispers of the story about a boy with skittles in his pocket being gunned down by a neighborhood watchman to the reverberations of calls for justice over the mumblings of a racial slur by the shooter and lack of thorough police work by the officers on the scene, the stories have been endless. George Zimmerman has been analyzed, his past uncovered, probed and explained. Race in general has been explored deeply with Trayvon Martin being considered by some the Emmett Till of this generation. People have also talked about the “Stand Your Ground” law that allowed George Zimmerman to walk away without being charged with murder. It’s all been said and I’m sure by now, you are reading this and wondering what makes this story any different.

Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to meet with some of the leadership from The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. As we were talking, Brady Campaign’s newly appointed President, Dan Gross, said to me that he always likes to ask one question when dealing with any gun violence case.

“What about the gun?”

In this instance, there is so much focus on race and justifiably so. There’s also a focus on who Trayvon Martin was and who George Zimmerman is, how the police have failed, the stand your ground law and what it means, and how we could allow this to happen on our watch. All of these things are important to focus on, undoubtedly so. But this case is extremely unique, which is why it has garnered so much attention. As a friend of mine said to me, “as sad as this story is, there are thousands of Trayvons out there that die every day.” And regretfully, it’s true. Each day, the Brady Campaign estimates 32 people die from gun violence. A 2010 report by the Children’s Defense Fund shows that black children and teens are more likely to be the victims of gun violence. The study went on to say specifically, black males between 15 and 19 years old were more than five times as likely to be killed by gun violence than their white peers and more than twice as likely as Latino and Native males. The difference in many of these other cases is that they aren’t overshadowed by the very sensitive topic of race in America and usually happen in low-income neighborhoods as opposed to gated communities. In fact, I’d venture to say that what has made this case imposing in the hearts and minds of everyone is that single issue of race. If Trayvon would have been killed walking through some project in the wrong neighborhood of LA, Chicago, Detroit, New York, or Philadelphia, it would have appeared on the local news for one night and maybe reappeared when they found the assailant. That would have been it. People may have still focused on what a good kid Trayvon was, there would have been some focus on the shooter and how troubled his past was, but even if the cops botched the investigation or dropped the ball all together, I doubt the marches would be happening; the movements wouldn’t be sprouting up even though there would be more than enough reason for them.

And so, I return to Dan Gross’ question. “What about the gun?” How does someone like George Zimmerman end up with a gun with a criminal past? To quote Dan Gross again, “if there’s no gun, there’s no murder.” No matter how crazy or racist or overzealous Zimmerman is, without a gun, Trayvon might still be alive. But what is truly scary is the legislation in Congress that will allow people like George Zimmerman to carry guns across state lines even into states with more stringent gun control laws.

We must ask ourselves, what we do about the guns! Why do we allow them on our streets, killing our family members, friends, neighbors and not fight back? How can we allow the gun lobbyists to buy Congress and not protect the people? How is it that we allow states to pass a law like the “Stand Your Ground Law” without staging a million marches and rallies the second it’s introduced? How can we allow laws to be created that give people with criminal histories the freedom to own a gun, much less a concealed weapon? How do we stand by as guns are brought into our communities right under our noses sometimes by the very police who are supposed to protect us without so much as a cry for justice? Why did we have to wait for Trayvon to die before we decided to pick up this cause?

In a sense, I hope that we have awakened the sleeping giant. I hope that Trayvon will be the last senseless victim and that we won’t just show up for million hoodie marches across the country without following it up with a million hoodie marches in Congress and state legislatures. I hope that we will push legislators to change the laws to protect the people and not their profits or pocketbooks. I pray for the children of tomorrow that they will look back at this moment and see that it meant something bigger and it created a true movement that lasted and resulted in change. We must act now; we cannot go back to sleep and forget Trayvon Martin, Shana Bagley, Tayshana Murphy, Vernon Hicks and so many other victims of senseless murder. We must always ask, “what about the gun,” and protect our communities from being overrun with guns and gun violence.