Metaphorically speaking, it’s been a hot, violent and angry summer virtually the world over. A June 20 report from the UN News Centre offered that “the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.” Bearing in mind that figure was proposed over two months ago, it’s worth wondering if it has crept upward. Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Israel and Gaza, children from Central America, parts of Africa – I supposed even Edward Snowden is counted in that tally.
America is grappling with civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City where recent evidence of police overreach and brutality have sparked demonstrations met with additional law enforcement violence. It’s tempting to liken these scenes to those of the 1960s and that decade’s Civil Rights movement, only with more smartphone cameras, tanks and sniper rifles.
Yet there is something demoralizing, alongside the inspiring scenes of community inspiration and activism, about the centuries-running persecution of young black American men by law enforcement and the judicial system. Something despairing in the repetitiveness and routine which the black male body is threatened, even as Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote for the majority in last year’s Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, “Our country has changed.”
President Obama and the White House team are struggling to strike the right foreign policy note in an era where the United States can no longer monetarily or morally afford to police the globe. Yet it remains glaringly obvious that we can and should do more to combat one of the greatest threats to human life of any color right here at home – gun violence. Though it is certain that racist cops and citizens would find another weapon for expressing their vitriolic hate in the absence of a loaded gun, we don’t have to continue making execution so easy.
In this season of discontent, we lost a legend in the crusade for sensible gun reform. James S. Brady, the former White House press secretary for Ronald Reagan, died earlier this month, more than 30 years after being wounded in an assassination attempt on the President in Washington D.C. As New York Times writer James Barron wrote in an August 4 story for the paper, “The bullet damaged the right section of his brain, paralyzing his left arm, weakening his left leg, damaging his short-term memory and impairing his speech. Just getting out of a car became a study in determination.”
Had Brady retreated into a quiet life of retirement after the incident, who could have blamed him? Instead, Barron explains, “What Mr. Brady became was an advocate of tough restrictions on the sale of handguns like the $29 pawnshop special that Mr. Hinckley [Brady’s shooter] had bought with false identification. ‘I wouldn’t be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation,’ Mr. Brady said in 2011.”
Brady’s advocacy helped usher in a wave of reforms in the 1990s, such as The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and a federal ban on assault weapons. Unfortunately, the Republican legend lived to see a reignited NRA lobby intimidate lawmakers into rolling back signature pieces of legislation. The assault weapon ban expired in 2004 and numerous attempts to reintroduce it have been summarily thwarted.
With so much hysterical partisanship and misinformation surrounding the Second Amendment, and amidst sustained inaction on Capitol Hill, it’s fair to wonder at the specter of sane gun policy. The NRA has a big budget and cowering lawmakers at its heels, while Democrats fear being tarred and feathered as enemies of the Constitution. Thankfully there is still one big name taking on the gun lobby, a man with plenty of money in the chest and no stated desire to seek another public office. This slight, and slightly snooty, billionaire might seem a strange heir apparent to the Brady tradition, but we’ll take it.
In an August 21 piece for the Times entitled, “The N.R.A. Versus Michael Bloomberg,” Francis X. Clines writes:
“Mr. Bloomberg’s organization, ‘Everytown for Gun Safety,’ aims to hold its own in this electioneering face-off. The former mayor’s spokesman, Stu Loeser, said a strong gun-safety message helped defeat candidates last year in Illinois, California and Virginia. ‘This November, we will help defeat others who have made the mistake of aligning with the N.R.A.,’ vowed Mr. Loeser.”
James Brady was a rare conservative voice who came to believe through tragic experience that a citizen’s right to bear arms should be balanced by the collective claim to life and security. It is sad that as Brady aged, members of his party failed to coalesce around him, opting instead for a cynical approach to policy that has made the fear of public massacre a generally rational one. The scrappy, snappy Bloomberg may seem an unlikely heir apparent to Brady’s call for Second Amendment sanity, but finally we have a pet cause from a one percenter that’s in everyone’s interest.