Turn prayers into action

Opinion: Columns

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By Anthony Clark

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Still reeling from the senseless murder of Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer, our nation was once again rocked by a devastating mass shooting. The calls for change and prayer that followed, would lead one to believe that those precious lives, tragically taken from their families, friends, and loved ones, would lead to support for comprehensive gun control laws and community strategies that address gun violence.

Instead, we will get the inevitable row of politicians expressing their rightful condolences, outrage, heartache, and calling for prayer. History has shown us that a lack of action has led to hollow messaging. Congress has failed to act on "bump stocks," and over 240 people have been shot in Chicago in 2018.

While many throw their hands up in despair over continued gun violence, their heads are turned away from the needed measures to create systemic change. Legislation and strategies to protect people from being murdered by firearms do exist. Unfortunately, such legislation is ignored and strategies tragically underutilized. Lobbying, dismissive attitudes, and the fickle nature of memory have created a cycle of repetitive tragedy.

What will it take for us, as a society, to wake up? Now is the time to fight for a future free of gun violence. We must create opportunity and push for common-sense laws and policies that make our communities safer.

My heart goes out to the individuals and families who have been touched by gun violence. But prayer without action is powerless. For gun violence to end, our actions must define us, not our words.

Gun violence is a symptom of interconnected issues, which requires interconnected solutions. Not one of us is immune to gun violence and unless we treat root causes, generations to come will be afflicted.

As communities we must fight for universal background checks, a federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, a federal ban on bump stocks, expansion of mental health treatment, campaign finance reform, banning those convicted of domestic violence from gun ownership, ending the war on drugs, investing in our communities, placing focus on community policing, and bringing the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into the technological age.

Current loopholes in federal gun laws exempt unlicensed sellers from having to perform any background check before selling firearms. The advent of the internet has further exacerbated this issue. With such loopholes, gun violence is dramatically increased as guns are placed in the hands of illegal buyers and gun traffickers. We must demand universal background checks at the federal level.

Between 1994 and 2004, there was a federal ban on military-style semi-automatic assault rifles. When the ban expired, mass shooting deaths soared and continue to devastate our nation. Passing a federal ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks is common-sense legislation as each are devices of war, not hunting.

There is a crises as mental health facilities continue to close in several cities. When one person is shot, hundreds of people are affected. Children and families wake up daily with post-traumatic stress disorder or, as one Chicago activist put it, "continuous traumatic stress disorder." We must fight to expand mental health treatment to address the aftermath of gun violence.

Following a mass shooting, the NRA expresses openness to change, yet blocks any action from occurring as outrage subsides. Members of Congress call for change, call for moments of silence, and send their thoughts and prayers, yet no progress is made on meaningful gun legislation. The significant money the NRA puts into supporting or opposing congressional candidates is the root cause of this inaction. Citizens United has also allowed billionaire influencers to funnel millions to the NRA to influence elections. Reversing Citizens United would lead to gun reform.

Studies have shown a direct correlation between firearms and violence against women. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent. Domestic abusers should not be allowed to own firearms.

The immediate and long-term effects of ending the war on drugs would have a significant impact on decreasing the number of gun fatalities across the nation. Families are broken as the war on drugs creates an endless cycle of black and minority populations being incarcerated, devastating communities.

Our communities must be invested in. Nothing stops a bullet like opportunity. There is a direct link between a lack of opportunity and violence as studies show the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods have the highest crime rates. We must address economic desperation and despair by investing in infrastructures, schools, economic development, and job creation. Not everyone will be successful, but everyone should have the opportunity to be successful.

Placing an emphasis on community policing which focuses on pro-active problem-solving and building relationships with communities served is extremely important. Empowering community members, and officers understanding the communities they serve, helps to end the "us vs. them," mentality that often exists and leads to addressing underlying conditions that impact public safety.

Communities, government, law enforcement agencies, social service providers, local and national leaders, schools, and churches must work in partnership to address the interconnected issues of gun violence. Together, we must all do more than pray.

The solutions exist, but they are being ignored and underfunded. What will it take? Whose son, whose daughter, whose mother, whose father, whose school, whose police department, whose family, whose community will have to be impacted before we wake up as a nation and fight for the changes required to end gun violence?

From here on out, the answer to our prayers is action.

Anthony V. Clark is a candidate for Illinois' 7th Congressional District. 

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