Columbia, SC — The first person I knew to die of a gunshot wound was Jim. I saw him last after a football game as he waved goodbye from afar. A few days later, he was shot in the face. He was 17.
There have been others: a stray bullet, a drive-by, a hunting accident, a murder by a disgruntled employee, robberies, suicides. A former student is charged with attempted murder for shooting into a crowd. My daughter and I were shot at in downtown Columbia while trapped in traffic.
Grief has eroded my respect for the right to own guns and use them responsibly.
When Newtown happened, I was horrified but hopeful. The murders reminded me of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Before that September day, the civil rights movement in Birmingham was stalling. Desensitized to the protests, the national press was not paying enough attention, yet the community was in turmoil as the local establishment fought vehemently against change. But after four little girls were murdered — and in the aftermath, two boys — moderate people began to advocate for equality.
I thought Newtown would jar us into action. Instead, any proposal regarding gun laws is dead on arrival; a cowardly Congress even balked at background checks.
We are imploding. We cannot continue to allow paranoia and lobbyists to frame our choices. Arming ourselves against violence is not our only choice. Nor, ultimately, can we legislate nonviolence, although morality demands we try.
The Civil Rights Act did not eradicate racism, and a century or more could pass before we evolve into communities not riddled with bullets.
That transformation must begin with the courage to lay down arms. The first principle of Martin Luther King Jr.’s tenets of nonviolence is that nonviolence is not passivity; it takes courage. The way to defend our freedom is not to escalate the violence, but to have the courage, intelligence and imagination to create a non-violent society. For violence, above all else, is the failure of those qualities.
My thoughts often return to the people I’ve known who’ve died from gun violence. Our nation lives in constant mourning, yet there is no name for this war, and there are so few leaders to guide us to safety. Still, the silence of our dead and our descendants demands that we think of them.