Columbine could have been a turning point in tackling America’s gun violence. It wasn’t.

Gun Rights

As the mayor of a city devastated by the unchecked greed of the firearm industry, I filed the first-of-its-kind lawsuit against irresponsible gun companies and their powerful lobbyists in 1998. At the time, I said the gun industry’s “day of atonement” had arrived.

Six months later, the massacre of a dozen students and a teacher at Columbine High School galvanized support for common-sense gun safety measures. I was even more convinced that the will of a horrified nation would triumph over the greed of an industry and the cowardice of the lawmakers it held in its thrall.

I could not have imagined that 25 years later, with nearly 900,000 more American lives lost to gun violence, greed and cowardice still would prevail.

At that summer’s meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the bipartisan Gun Violence Task Force approved a letter to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) calling for raising the minimum age for purchasing and possessing a handgun from 18 to 21, requiring background checks at gun shows, and limiting gun purchases to one a month per individual, and other common-sense measures.

You Might Like

The same day my fellow mayors and I displayed our defiance of the gun industry, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster kowtowed to it, signing legislation prohibiting cities from filing lawsuits like the one I filed. More than 30 cities and counties would follow New Orleans’ example with similar lawsuits, and many state legislatures responded with similar cowardice, passing laws to ban them.

School shootings represent a small fraction of the tens of thousands of gun deaths each year in the United States, but they are uniquely emblematic of our national shame.

Columbine could have been a turning point. Shortly after the massacre, leaders of the National Rifle Association scrambled to formulate a response and considered canceling the organization’s upcoming convention. They feared the “horrible juxtaposition” of “kids fondling firearms” in the convention’s exhibit hall as the murdered children’s funerals took place.

The decision not only to hold the convention, but to use it as a show of contempt for a nation’s grief and outrage, set the tone for the next quarter century. In the wake of each mass atrocity, the NRA responded by fanning baseless fears of a total gun ban, rallying opposition to safety measures, and seizing on the opportunity to sell more and more guns.

In the three weeks after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio claimed 32 lives in 2019, the NRA nearly doubled its spending on pro-gun Facebook propaganda.

Can the nation recover from NRA’s damage?

But if the greed of gun manufacturers built the NRA into a seemingly all-powerful force, the greed of the NRA’s leaders may have torn it down. In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the NRA and its top executives, accusing them of illegally diverting NRA funds for their personal use.

As a result, the NRA has lost more than one million and its revenue has dropped by more than 40%.

The question is whether the nation can recover from the damage the NRA has wrought, even as its influence wanes.

But its opposition wasn’t enough to stop Congress from passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, the first major piece of federal gun reform legislation in nearly 30 years.

A significant step forward, the Act requires background checks on gun purchases for young adults, increased mental health funding, expanded prohibitions on gun ownership for domestic abusers and created incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws. But it does not address more significant gun safety measures such as universal background checks, a ban on the sale of assault weapons and longer waiting periods for gun purchases.

As President Joe Biden noted in his statement on the 25th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the families who have lost loved ones to gun violence have only one message: Do something.

Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League and was mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002. He writes a twice-monthly column for the Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

You Might Like

Articles You May Like

ELECTION 2024: 2 Republicans seek to take on Hosey
The US ruling class lurches to right: Kennedy and Trump appeal for support at fascistic Libertarian Convention
‘Age of Secrets’ Biography on John Meier Exposes Real Reason for Watergate – Nixon Resignation 50 years ago on Aug. 9th
Self-Defense: Garage Invasion & Excessive Force
Did Texas gun laws change after Uvalde? A look at gun safety efforts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *