I woke up early this morning, driven from my bed by the sharp pain running up and down what’s left of my spine. As I straightened up my back emitted a series of sharp cracks. If you’ve ever seen a poker player shuffling chips you’ll know what it sounded like. You’ll also know why my spouse told me to leave the bedroom.
Fortunately, the cracks emanating from my back were the only sharp sounds in my neighborhood. When I turned on the radio in the bathroom and NPR’s Morning Edition leaped from the speaker, I learned that men, women, and children across the globe were awakening to a completely different kind of crack — the crack of gunfire.
In Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, bullets were flying. People were being killed by people wielding assault rifles. Sadly, the same thing was happening in Chicago — seven people murdered in one night on the streets of America’s most blood-soaked city.
Reeling, the sound of recorded gunfire still ringing in my ears, I walked into the living room, turned on the TV, and tuned to the Today show, hoping for some happy talk that would take the edge off. Instead, a promo for Sylvester Stallone’s new movie “Bullet to the Head” filled the screen. I mashed the power button on the remote and sent Sly into the abyss.
I sat on my couch in silence and semi-darkness repulsed by the realization that we live in a world and a country so soaked in gun violence that we’ve become numb to the carnage surrounding us. A congresswoman shot in a parking lot, a movie theater turned into a killing field, 32 dead and 17 wounded at Virginia Tech, 31,000 Americans, more than 2,000 of them kids, slaughtered by guns every year and, until the unspeakable horror of Newtown, until the bodies of 20 first graders were riddled by so many bullets that they were rendered unidentifiable, we refused to act. A nation held hostage by NRA extremists who front for the gun manufacturers that profit from death.
As I sat, despondent because pundits are already speculating that President Obama’s drive to enact reasonable gun regulations appears doomed, this thought hit me: the same assault weapons that are ripping apart bodies in Damascus and Benghazi, that the Taliban use to kill, that opened gaping, fatal wounds in 50 Egyptian protesters, that terrorists around the world use to murder, are being used to terrorize people right here in the good old USA.
The sad fact is that when it comes to guns and gun violence, we’re no better than the third-world nations so many of us like to sneer at. Think for a moment what life would be like if we adopted the same perverse absolutist stance toward other segments of our society that the NRA and its adherents take toward guns. There would be no child labor laws, no OSHA. Our food would go un-inspected, our drugs untested, our water undrinkable, our air rank and deadly.
We are the culture we are because we acted to make our nation — and in particular our kids — safer. We are the greatest nation in the world because we recognized dangers and dealt with them. We are the freest nation in the world because we are free of so many of the hazards that make life in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya, and other lesser-developed nations so damn deadly.
And yet, when it comes to guns, we are just like them.
Is that who we really are?
Is that who we really want to be?
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan, D-58th, Youngstown, writes on behalf of the Mahoning County Democratic Party.