By Barney Blakeney
The Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has reinvigorated the conversation about gun violence on a national scale. Students are raising their voices in the discussion. Rightfully so, they must live in the aftermath of the violent society we’ve created.
Seventeen students and teachers were killed at one time by a kid only a few years younger than Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in the Emanuel AME Church shooting in June 2015. A year later in June 2016 another young man killed 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Last year 41 Black males were killed in Charleston County. All but nine were under age 40.
Mass shootings get our attention, but actually, more people are killed on an ongoing basis. Thirty-five were killed in North Charleston last year. Their average age was 25. North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess took a message last week to the street after an 18-year-old was found shot multiple times was murdered in his city. That message – stop the violence!
I was encouraged hearing that sporting goods chain Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it no longer will sell assault rifles, high capacity ammunition magazines or sell guns to individuals under age 21. Dick’s Sporting Goods sold a shotgun to the suspect in the Valentine’s Day murders. Why they did all that stuff in the first place is indicative of the mindset in our society – make that money, it don’t matter how – but that they’re backing away from that mindset is encouraging.
When I heard about Dick’s decision I thought it was a good move. Impassioned cries are being made asking for stricter gun control legislation and of course they’re falling on deaf ears. Legislators don’t care about impassioned cries. For most of them it’s about getting paid and getting re-elected. That’s why it’s so important that voters take the time to elect effective representation that serves their best interests. I still say voter registration without voter education is just so much futile exercise.
I was moved by Dick’s Sporting Goods’ action because to me it says someone is taking individual responsibility. All the legislation in the world ain’t gonna work unless people take some individual responsibility. To start with, the legislators ain’t gonna pass legislation that’s in our best interest. Heck, they’re too stupid to look out for themselves! Because of their stupidity, that gunman went on an Alexandria, Va. baseball field last year and shot up the place injuring a congressman, an aid, a lobbyist and a security officer! Legislative inaction affects them as well.
There are a lot of moving parts to this issue of gun violence. I’m learning that as a member of a group of guys who came together three years ago to impact gun violence. When the brothers of the United Black Men of Charleston County came together I thought we could instantaneously stop the approximately 30 homicides that were occurring annually in Black communities around the county.
In my naivety, I thought we could bring that proverbial freight train to a screeching halt. But just as it takes time to bring any freight train to a halt, it’s going to take time to stop the violence. The brothers have been working hard on several different fronts to make it happen. Brothers Kevin Williams and Charles Johnson recently were elected president and vice-president respectively. They will continue pursuing an initiative requesting the UBMCC’s Prevention and Intervention of Gun Violence proposal be included in Charleston County School District’s curriculum.
The brothers believe many lives can be saved by educating our sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces about the dangers of guns and violence. They previously took that message to the streets by going into communities talking to young people and conducting community meetings. And they’re developing an agenda that will center on jobs – particularly summer jobs for the youth.
I initially was attracted to the UBMCC’s message because the guys focused on individual responsibility – the individual responsibility of Black men to impact the dynamics being played out in their communities. Co-founders Henry Darby and Teddie Pryor emphasized that Black men – not Black women, not the white community, not anybody else – has that primary responsibility. It is the individual responsibility of Black men to make stuff happen. I think they’re right. Of course Black men must work cohesively with others to achieve the goal, but the primary responsibility is ours.
Likewise, I’m similarly convinced it will take individual responsibility to impact gun violence on the larger scale. Individual communities have to take responsibility. Dick’s Sporting Goods shows how the business community can take responsibility. Gun control is a function of legislation and law enforcement and I think those communities must be responsible. But parents, schools, churches and social communities also have responsibilities.
Again, there are a lot of moving parts to the issue of gun violence. Students are doing their part. If each part of our general community fulfills its individual responsibilities, we can turn this thing around. I don’t think we have a choice.