We mourned the murder of Blair Holt on Friday at the House of Hope in Chicago. The 16-year-old died a hero, using his body to shield a friend as his crowded bus was shot up by what was apparently an enraged gang member. Americans saw the horror at Virginia Tech, the worst mass murder in U.S. history, where 32 students died. But this country experiences a Virginia Tech every day, as an average of 32 people are murdered by gunfire. America's cities -- and particularly America's poor neighborhoods -- are terrorized by gun violence.
Our cities don't manufacture guns. Most don't allow gun dealers to operate inside the city limits. But our urban borders are even more porous than our national borders. Just outside Chicago, as outside many large cities, the dealers set up shop. There is no limit on the number of guns an individual can buy. And President Bush allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, so there is virtually no limit on the kind of guns that can be purchased.
Any big-city police chief will tell you the easy access to guns contributes directly to the death toll in our cities -- and endangers the lives of the men and women who serve on the thin blue line of police.
Metropolitan areas -- where most people live -- have no use for gun peddlers, for people packing concealed weapons, for kids fighting gang wars with assault weapons. If given their choice, most citizens in cities and suburbs would simply ban handguns, ban assault weapons and ban gun shops and gun dealers. Hunters could buy their guns in the rural areas where they hunt.
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Why are the warnings of police chiefs across the country ignored? The answer, largely, is that the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, has been taken over by zealots and promises to punish politicians who want to get guns off our streets. The NRA doesn't simply play defense. It has gone into statehouses to pass laws prohibiting metropolitan areas from enforcing their own gun bans, and to make licensing easy for concealed weapons. The gun nuts' answer to Virginia Tech is that students should pack concealed weapons.
Politicians quake before the NRA's muscle. My own sense, however, is that the NRA is more swagger than actual swat. In 2000, they organized big time against Al Gore. But Gore won the popular vote. He won Michigan and Pennsylvania. Gun-control initiatives passed in Colorado and Oregon, both hunters' states. The NRA lost the great bulk of the House and Senate races that it pumped the most money in. The NRA has a lot of money and makes a lot of noise, but its members have other concerns: Iraq, health care, the economy.
But the NRA is mobilized. The victims of gun violence are not. The gun dealers sell the guns; innocent people get shot; we mourn. But mourning isn't enough. This will change only if the victims -- the parents and the children, the police and the firefighters -- organize. Americans should not have to live in fear of sitting on their porches, walking the streets or riding the buses. There must a victims' rebellion. They must demand laws that protect them, and value and honor those laws.
The NRA wants guns on streets. The gun dealers profit from the sale. Guns are becoming a statement of manhood. The victims -- and their friends, relatives and neighbors, police and firefighters -- must demand real gun control. Gun control won't end violence, but it will lower the casualties and help protect the innocent. It will make it harder for terrorists -- foreign and homegrown -- to buy guns in America. It will strengthen the porous borders of metropolitan areas against the gun peddlers who profit from selling guns to gangs. It might even allow us to celebrate the life of the next Blair Holt rather than mourn his death.
© 2007 The Chicago Sun-Times