I remember walking into the exam room of the old Wayne County Morgue. As a then pre-med college student, I was there to observe autopsies. The young man on the slab was 15. He had been shot by someone who wanted his silk shirt. I remember looking at him and thinking that just hours earlier, he was a son, friend and student.
The image of blood falling slowly from the corner of his eyes is an image I’ll never forget, and one that still seems to sum up our collective anger and frustration with the violence we wrangle with as a country. But even blood-filled tears aren’t enough.
We are sadly running out of ways to frame the discussion around guns and gun violence. It can no longer be politicized, romanticized or exploited. Days after President Joe Biden signed what was supposed to be meaningful gun legislation, another mass shooting took place.
Biden is touting his gun legislation as historic, but Americans continue to wrestle with violence daily throughout the country. In Detroit, gun violence continues to be a leading cause of death and destruction, as it has for decades.
Laws look great on paper but do little for the times and tempers that fuel gunfire as the solution of choice for too many. While mass shootings get media attention and coverage, it’s the daily destruction that cripples our communities.
We are undermined by domestic violence, road rage, random and revenge shootings. The Small Arms Survey estimates there are around 393 million guns in America, the equivalent of 120 firearms per 100 citizens.
In Detroit, gun violence is almost normalized. Addressing it has been a political broken promise for decades. Officer Loren Courts was the latest victim, met with bullets while responding to a “shots-fired” 911 call. The shooter was 19 years old. We shake our bowed heads but carry on.
We say addressing violence is a priority, but is it really?
We put bandages on gunshot wounds rather than attacking the root causes of violence. Detroit, while promoted as a new, better and brighter city, is anything but. Still poor, predominately Black with both high unemployment and abysmal literacy rates, crime remains rampant.
Jobs are dangled by developers seeking economic grace in front of a largely unqualified worker base. Too many are the victims of other failed programs with endless promises and no progress.
Generational poverty and a lack of viable opportunities for upward mobility coupled with long-standing social, economic and health care disparities have created a tsunami of hopelessness.
Add to that the increasing mental health challenges fueled or highlighted by the pandemic and a strained relationship between the community and the police. This is a combustible and deadly mix for those who feel they have nothing to lose.
A stronger, better police force is appealing. But this isn’t a problem that we can police, protest or pray our way out of. Officer response matters; their presence may deter crime. But having police presence at every household and corner is unrealistic.
To address the problem, we must tackle the contributing factors. This means dismantling the layers of systemic failures of social service agencies, schools, health care providers, community organizations and churches.
Guns are big money, which means associations like the NRA and manufacturers have power and influence. In 2021, the gun and ammunition industry’s total economic impact was as high as $70 billion according to an industry trade association report. While I support the right to own and carry a gun, I more strongly support the responsibility that comes with carrying one. Guns aren’t toys and their results are not games.
While guns and violence are sadly part of the fabric of our society, it is past time to unravel the threads that bind us to things that clearly hurt us.
Karen Dumas is a columnist for The Detroit News and the co-host of “The No BS News Hour.” Her column appears on Tuesdays.