Proliferation of guns, lack of background checks
By Steve Dunwoody | Guest OpEd
On April 7, the two youngest Black state representatives serving in the Tennessee legislature, Justin Jones, 27, and Justin Pearson, 28, were expelled from the body. Their “crime”? Breaking a house rule disrupting regular proceedings to stage a protest with a third colleague Gloria Johnson - who was spared expulsion against gun violence. This move was a blatant attempt to silence their voices and intimidate others from speaking out. Let alone an unprecedented attack that exceeded the mark for any disciplinary action in modern times. It spoke volumes for the inaction of the GOP-controlled legislature to do anything about gun violence that the only step they could take was to remove the voices of those who dared to point out that same inaction.
This follows protests by multitudes of people at the legislature since the recent school shooting in Nashville by a shooter who killed three children, a teacher, and two staff at Covenant School. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 123 shootings that took place across the country - more than the days that have passed so far in the year alone. The U.S. is the only industrialized country with this problem. The proliferation of guns, lack of background checks, and the latest proposals passed by Republicans would no longer require a permit. These policies risk leading to the deaths of more innocent people and turning our country into the Wild West.
There is no doubt that public safety is essential. Last year, the Los Angeles Police Department recorded 2,780 robberies involving a gun. That is an increase of nearly 400 from 2021. I was a victim of a mugging at gunpoint last year. I was fortunately unharmed but my biggest shock was that it was young teenagers who should have been in school. Even as a Veteran who served in Iraq, I never had anyone try to use their weapon on me, so one can imagine the irony of having someone using one on me on the very block where I live in Hollywood. And as we look across the nation and see mass shooting after mass shooting of innocent, unarmed people being killed just for showing up at work or school or during simple traffic stops - enough is enough. We have the right to be safe.
That means reimagining public safety to get at the roots of what contributes to crime (this includes joblessness), banning assault weapons, including expanded background checks, and ensuring we hold those who provide public safety accountable. Since the ban on assault weapons was lifted, we have seen an exponential increase in mass shootings with those weapons. We need to reinstate it immediately. We also need to decrease the footprint of law enforcement for routine traffic stops and mental health emergencies. Those encounters that lead to a loss of life need to be investigated by a third party and, as necessary, held accountable.
Ending gun violence. That is what Justin Jones and Justin Pearson and so many advocates nationwide were fighting for. Speaking with prophetic fire, these bold leaders represent a new generation that will not accept business as usual. The anti-democratic designs of the GOP-controlled Tennessee legislature have back-fired. Mr. Jones and Pearson are now national leaders with a bigger platform to advocate for a new vision for America that the new generation will lead us from the neighborhoods in which we live to the Halls of Congress. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, “ Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” And the new generation, despite whatever those on the wrong side of history and against democracy will not be silenced.
A millennial, based in Los Angeles, Steve Dunwoody is a veteran, college educator, and community advocate.