Thistlethwaite: The guns of August
In the bloody August of 2019, at least 31 people were killed in mass shootings in one weekend. So far, in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks gun violence, 263 mass shootings have occurred.
That is a mirror of what Barbara Tuchman, the famed author of the book on the beginning of World War I, “The Guns of August,” wrote, “One constant among the elements of 1914 … was the disposition not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”
The Parkland, Florida, students who founded “March for Our Lives” do not accept either that historical or contemporary council of despair. They will act on what they know to be true as survivors of a mass shooting.
They have just released a comprehensive proposal called “A Peace Plan for a Safer America.” It is subtitled “Created by survivors so you don’t have to be one.”
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“A Peace Plan for a Safer America” goes much further than the current debate over universal background checks and red-flag laws, which would apply to people who could be a danger to themselves and others.
In the executive summary, the authors note the relentless carnage of gun violence, its toll especially on young people, and commit to the same kind of “intersectionality,” that is, working with the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic justice and immigrant rights, that has characterized “March for Our Lives” since its inception.
It reads: “Every day in America, more than 100 lives are taken by the deadly epidemic of gun violence. Among young people, gun violence has become a top cause of death, second only to drug overdoses. It has many root causes, including hate, poverty, and despair. It’s a deeply intersectional issue, inextricably bound with our long journey for racial justice, economic justice, immigrant rights, and the rights of our LGBTQ allies. And it’s amplified by the societal belief that a gun can solve our problems. Gun violence is destroying our generation. This is simply unacceptable. That’s why, as survivors and students of March For Our Lives, we believe it’s time for a Peace Plan for a Safer America.”
One of the things that impressed me about the plan is that they have gone directly at one of the key issues in gun violence that many who seek to dodge change will not address. They want to reduce the number and kind of guns in which our society is now literally drowning. They propose to raise the national standard for gun ownership, have a national licensing and registry system that promotes responsible gun ownership, ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and other “weapons of war” and a national gun buy-back program to reduce the number of guns.
It really is the guns, this plan emphasizes.
I know this in my own life because, when my husband and I were college dorm resident heads many years ago, a young man became furious and out-of-control. He had a baseball bat and swung it around, trying to hit people. He also demolished the reception area. Other students ran away, and I had campus security come get him. There were no deaths or even injuries. Imagine if that young man had had an assault weapon or even a handgun. I personally might not have survived to write this.
Like the Parkland students, we all need to get clear on that. It’s the guns and the types of guns that have caused us to live with this constant carnage.
The authors of the “Peace Plan” have a goal: halve the number of gun deaths in 10 years by declaring a national emergency around gun violence. They want to “hold the gun lobby and industry accountable for decades of illegal behavior and misguided policies.”
The Peace Plan would create “A Director of Gun Violence Prevention” who would report directly to the president and coordinate the federal response to what many health care providers (who refuse to “stay in their lane”) now call a national public health emergency.
The “Peace Plan” would raise the age to 21 for those who want to buy guns. It calls for a “multi-step” gun licensing system, overseen by a federal agency, that would include in-person interviews and a 10-day wait before gun purchases are approved. The license would be renewed annually.
The “Peace Plan,” as has been the case for the work of “March for Our Lives,” takes a very holistic approach to ending gun violence by also calling for automatic voter registration when those eligible turn 18, along with the creation of a “Safety Corps,” which the authors compare to a Peace Corps for gun violence prevention. The plan also proposes community-based solutions like mental health services, as well as programs to address and prevent suicide, domestic violence and urban violence.
March for Our Lives leaders hope the 2020 Democratic candidates, and, indeed, all candidates, will embrace their plan and campaign on it.
Oct. 2 in Las Vegas, March for Our Lives will host a presidential forum dedicated to addressing gun violence in partnership with Giffords, the group run by former congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords.
The success of Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and other gun-sense advocacy organizations has shown political candidates they can run on the issue of gun reform and win.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted about the “Peace Plan” that “@AMarch4OurLives continues to show that a new generation of survivors and activists are leading the way on the issue of gun violence.”
From 1914 on, the ”Guns of August” of WWI were horrifyingly deadly, and especially the machine gun. In July, 1916, the Germans used machine guns to kill or wound nearly 60,000 British soldiers in the Battle of the Somme in only one day.
In the U.S. today, 60,000 is less than half those killed or wounded by guns in a year.
We have marched straight into a war of our own making, in our schools, our places of worship, our streets, our malls, our movie theaters, and places of business, unthinking and blind to the consequences like those Tuchman describes who failed to act to prevent WWI.
Instead, let us, as the Parkland students have said, March for Our Lives and march straight into the voting booth in 2020 to make our priorities on gun reform crystal clear.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.