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The bleeding need for national action on US gun reform

After the horrific Las Vegas mass shooting, will Americans continue to passively accept that the majority is powerless to reform hollow US gun laws in the face of special interest groups? Originally published, December 18, 2015.

Mass shooting leaves 14 dead in San Bernardino, California, december 2, 2015. Mass shooting leaves 14 dead in San Bernardino, California, December 2, 2015. Demotix/Eric Rosenwald. All right reserved. In the three years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the subsequent failure to reform the hollow gun laws of the United States, we have been forced to bear witness to mass shootings at more schools, at malls and movie theaters, at hospitals and health centers, and at houses of worship. Shooters, it appears, are determined in their murderous madness to penetrate even the most defenseless sectors of American life. They struck again in late November—at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and again on December 2 at a service center for people with disabilities in San Bernardino, California.

Nevertheless, as we prepare for another winter of death and despair, our answer must be to fight for reform with a faith that is as obstinate as the spring.

Despite this growing catalog of carnage, America's representatives refuse to enact laws that would stanch the senseless bloodshed. Instead, they remain frozen in the ice of their own indifference. And we—the American people—have not yet summoned the collective will necessary to break through it.

That tremendous criticism of the ancient Greeks can similarly be said of us: they watch the slaughter unfold as if it were a gathering storm, each praying that it does not come their way, but none acting to stay its course.

We know that there are legislative actions that could save lives; we know that many of these actions enjoy the support of the majority of Americans. Yet we passively accept, perhaps as a result of successive frustrations, that even the majority is powerless in the face of special interest groups that choke off the channels of change. In short, we concede that in our representative democracy a well-funded, well-organized few can overwhelm the righteous will of the many. 

This absurd state of affairs has an inevitably self-fulfilling character. For when people give up their sense of possibility and their faith in the efficacy of the democratic system, they withdraw from it—dimming any future hope of achieving their ends. What is left is what we have today: relentless shootings with no end in sight. This is our democracy, the very system that marks us as exceptional, and we must find a way to make it work. The responsibility is ours.

Nevertheless, as we prepare for another winter of death and despair, our answer must be to fight for reform with a faith that is as obstinate as the spring. Because if our gun laws are to be reformed; if we are to overcome the outsize influence of the NRA; if we are to be citizens, not helots; then we must rid ourselves of the juvenile notion that the responsibility for solving our problems rests in the hands of others. This is our democracy, the very system that marks us as exceptional, and we must find a way to make it work. The responsibility is ours. 

There are tens of millions of Americans—I am one of them—who say they favor sensible reforms to the laws that enable the ongoing slaughter, yet who do little to ensure those reforms are enacted. Most of us, to paraphrase Thoreau, sit around with our hands in our pockets and complain that we do not know what to do, so we do nothing. Occasionally we post on social media; maybe we sign a petition. But, in truth, many of us give less than our full. We wait for someone else to do the hard and heavy work of citizenship—the organizing, the door knocking, and the marching.

The burden belongs to the entire nation; we have a shared responsibility to stem the bloodshed. There can be no higher call on our consciences or for national action than for each of us to vigorously engage in the country’s civic and political life until we have succeeded in this task. And perhaps by doing so, we might make the hope of democracy real again for our nation and for our century.

About the author

Bassam Gergi holds a J.D. from Yale Law School. He was a Dahrendorf Scholar at the University of Oxford. 


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