Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Victims of gun violence drowned out by those imagining gun confiscation: Jarvis DeBerry


Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in the mass shooting that killed six people in Tucson, Ariz. two years ago, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence. She is escorted by her husband, Mark Kelly, right, a retired astronaut, Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., second from left, and the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Jarvis DeBerry, | The Times-Picayune By Jarvis DeBerry, | The Times-Picayune
on February 09, 2013 at 9:00 AM, updated F

tired astronaut Mark E. Kelly began his Jan. 30 testimony to a Senate committee by describing the changes he's observed in his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was representing Arizona's 8th Congressional District two years ago when a gunman shot her in the head with a semiautomatic handgun. Kelly said Giffords' "gift of speech is a distant memory. She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind. Her right arm is completely paralyzed." Then, after praising his wife's resilience, Kelly said, "We aren't here as victims. We're speaking to you today as Americans."

When did those two words -- American and victim -- become antonyms? Didn't the Senate Judiciary Committee convene a hearing called "What Should America Do About Gun Violence?" because too many Americans have fallen victim to gunshots? Didn't they invite Kelly because his wife was one of America's most famous and highest-ranking victims of gun violence? Yes, Giffords survived her attack, but we know from Kelly's opening remarks and from Giffords' own halting testimony at the hearing that she's not the same person. She's suffering now in ways she didn't before. There's no shame in acknowledging that she's a victim. As an American victim of gun violence, Giffords has plenty of company.

Perhaps we could have a more civil conversation regarding guns if we reminded ourselves that there are victims out there -- many of them dead, many of them alive but scarred mentally, physically or both. However, judging by the volume of the protests, one could easily get the impression that the real victims aren't the ones who've been injured, or the ones who've been killed but are those who imagine the government coming to take their guns away. And some of them would rather keep our attention turned away from those who've had uncomfortably close experiences with gunfire.

Before last week's Super Bowl, a choir from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., took to the Superdome turf and sang "America the Beautiful" with Grammy-award winner Jennifer Hudson. It was at their school on Dec. 14 that 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 of their schoolmates and six adults who worked at the school. Some critics had argued before the game that the plan to have the children sing before an international audience exploited them. Beyond that, some complained that the children were being trotted out to make a political statement. But what statement exactly? What political position is being advanced by having them appear in public and sing their love for America?

If the children's visibility gives an advantage to those seeking gun restrictions, wouldn't keeping them out of sight help those who think a more thoroughly armed citizenry is the solution? That's not to say the expressed concern for these children is frivolous. Could they be exploited? Of course, even by those who are well intended. At the same time, it doesn't seem right for adults to have a debate prompted by a school shooting and refuse to let children be seen or heard. To the contrary; their victimization ought to be foremost in our minds.

The folks fighting more gun restrictions don't want children killed any more than those demanding tougher laws. This debate does not pit those who love children against those who don't. Rather, it pits those who think gun violence can be reduced with more guns against those who think that goal's more likely to be achieved with more restrictions.

What role should victims of gun violence play in the national debate on gun control?
  • There should be more restraint practiced because victim appearances make the debate overly emotional.
  • They should be as visible as possible, lest we lose sight of the stakes.
vote and review results

In his written testimony to the Senate committee, David B. Kopel, a constitutional lawyer at Denver University, makes a fairly strong case for why many gun control proposals would be meaningless. But in his argument against limiting the size of ammunition magazines, he unwittingly makes a point for those afraid of more armed personnel on campus. In a written transcript of his testimony, Kopel tells the committee that "in stressful circumstances, police as well as non-police civilians often miss when firing a handgun even at close range (so) having the extra rounds can be crucially important in some defensive contexts."

It's the thought of would-be heroes not just missing their target but hitting the wrong ones that makes some folks skeptical of ideas to bring more guns into schools. Righteousness has no bearing on marksmanship. If police at close range are often inaccurate, what might we expect from those with less training? Let's not replace the intended victims of a criminal with the unintended victims of a good guy.

And let us stop making "victim" a dirty word. Let's instead commit ourselves to seeing those victims and their injuries. We owe them nothing less.

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