Wednesday is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, made famous by Martin Luther King's stirring oration. We remember the Rev. King's "dream," but he was not a dreamer. The March on Washington was a demand for changes in the law to provide equal rights to all Americans.
Wednesday in more than 20 cities across America, activists will once more march for basic rights. There will be candlelight ceremonies, rallies, marches and "lie-ins," where 32 people -- the number who die each day from gun violence -- will lie down to protest the flood of illegal guns in our country. The protest will join together the RainbowPush Coalition, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Million Moms March and dozens of other groups.
Why the protest? Gun violence is up, and gun law enforcement is down. The guns are not made in our cities. For the most part, they are not sold there. But a disproportionate number of their victims are there.
Who supplies illegal guns? Studies by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show that 1 percent of the gun dealers supply a stunning 57 percent of the guns used in crimes. A handful of dealers -- spurning the laws and checks that screen out those with a criminal record or "straw purchasers" for others -- profit from trafficking in illegal gun sales.
Background checks are required on all federally licensed gun dealers. But four of 10 guns in the United States are sold without any such check. Felons, the mentally imbalanced and those on the terrorist watch are free to purchase guns. And in many states, there are no limits on the number of guns someone can buy at one time.
Most of these sales without checks take place at gun shows. Thirty percent of trafficked guns, according to the ATF, are sold at gun shows or flea markets. The gun lobby has blocked efforts to require background checks on any gun purchase.
The demands of the protesters are just common sense:
1. Enforce the laws we do have; lift the shackles on the ATF to enforce the law. ATF is notoriously underfunded. The Department of Justice estimates it would take 22 years for it to inspect all federally licensed dealers given current manpower. Its enforcement powers have been crippled by limiting its ability to suspend licenses and issue fines to gun dealers that trample the laws.
2. Extend background checks to all gun sales. In the age of al-Qaida, with gun violence growing, let's make no exceptions. Every sale requires a background check -- no check, no sale.
3. Ban large-volume sales of guns. Someone coming into a gun show to purchase 10 or 20 weapons at once isn't going hunting for deer. Some states have limits, but many do not. Limits make the use of straw purchasers more difficult.
These commonsense measures are vital. Gun violence now violates basic civil rights. It terrorizes people on their own streets and in their own homes. It is time to crack down on gun traffickers. It is perverse that politicians respond more to the extremist arguments of the gun lobby than to the common sense of their own communities. Wednesday, we march to say it is time to act -- and to hold responsible those who stand in the way.
The Rev. King understood that segregation must be challenged by the oppressed, for it would not be challenged by the oppressors. Easy access to guns must be challenged by its victims, for it will not be opposed by those who profit from it. In the age of al-Qaida and Virginia Tech, terrorists can still buy guns without a background check. It is time to march.
© 2007 The Chicago Sun Times