When the Newtown, Connecticut Police Chief Stepped to the Podium. . .

donotstandidlyby. . .the tears began running down my face. It wasn’t so much what he said. It was seeing in flesh and blood a man who had seen far more of the consequences of senseless violence than anyone should ever have to see; it was seeing in the lines on his face the toll that such a tragedy had taken. And it was the deep sadness that the senseless loss of life from gun violence goes on because we have not decided yet that enough is enough.

On Monday, I was at McCormick Place, the huge convention center complex in downtown Chicago, for a rally and press conference sponsored by Metro IAF, the midwest/east coast version of the community organizing affiliate that our congregation works with. For a couple of years now, Metro IAF has been working on a broad strategy directed at gun safety, Do Not Stand Idly By.

The rally was timed to coincide with the 2015 conference and exhibition of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. About 200 citizens mostly from Chicago and surrounding suburbs stood at the edge of the street stood across the street from the hall where the conference was being held. Inside the exhibition hall, major firearm manufacturers were displaying their wares, competing against one another for more sales to the government entities around the world that purchase these essential tools for law enforcement.

The IAF’s strategy is to leverage the buying power of government agencies at every level to force gun manufacturers to begin manufacturing their guns with smart technology that would allow only the owner of the gun to fire the gun. The technology is already available. One approach uses fingerprint recognition technology, similar to the security apparatus on the current generation of iPhones. Another approach requires a bracelet to be worn on the shooting hand before the gun will fire. (In addition to the website linked above, you can read more about the strategy in this Washington Post article.)

We heard personal stories that illustrate why the need for action is so urgent. DiAne Boese of Oak Park told of how as 4 year old child, she was a gunshot victim. She was playing in her yard with the child from next door who had found a gun at home and thought it was a toy. He pointed it at her head and pulled the trigger. The gun was loaded and went off, sending a bullet through her head. She spent most of her childhood enduring a series of surgeries and treatments attempting to repair that damage from that tragic accident.

A pastor from Bridgeport, Connecticut told of a promising 15 year old member of his congregation who got caught in the cross-fire of a gang-related shooting. “I have buried too many young people who have died before they had a chance to live,” he said.

Every day 150 Americans are shot and 83 (including eight children) are killed by firearms. Every year an average of 30,000 Americans die from firearms. A 2009 study at the Yale School of Medicine showed that over 7,000 children are hospitalized or killed due to gun violence every year. An additional 3,000 children die from gun injuries before making it to the hospital, bringing the total number of injured or killed adolescents to 10,000 each year. Why are we ready to accept such carnage? Why do we think it’s acceptable?

Attending the rally were police chiefs from Palatine, Illinois, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Newtown, a few of the dozens of chiefs of police around the country who are endorsing this effort. When Chief Kehoe from Newtown spoke, his heartfelt plea was to take action. He is supporting this approach that provides a way forward that ought to find support across the political spectrum. It is neither pro- nor anti-gun. It’s a reasonable approach to gun safety and reducing the number of tragic shooting deaths. “With people like you involved and working, we can do this,” Kehoe said.

Decades ago, as a society we decided that too many people were dying in automobile accidents; we forced auto manufacturers to install seatbelts. Then we made laws that made it a ticketable offense not to wear a seatbelt. When that wasn’t enough, we forced auto manufacturers to install lifesaving air bags. Auto deaths have been reduced dramatically.  When we decided too many children were dying accidentally in baby cribs (a tiny fraction of the number of children killed by guns), we forced the manufacturers of baby furniture to change their design to reduce the chance that a baby would get stuck and die in the crib. The list goes on and on and on of instances in which the federal government has forced manufacturers of a wide spectrum of consumer goods to make changes that make those products safer.

I’m not so naive as to draw a straight line of causation between easy access to guns and the epidemic of gun violence in this country. That epidemic has a tangled and complicated web of causation. Still, it’s reasonable to hold that easy access to guns is part of the equation and something that we can easily do something about, if only we muster the communal will to do so. And it’s about time.

One thought on “When the Newtown, Connecticut Police Chief Stepped to the Podium. . .

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