Gabrielle Giffords, Trayvon Martin: Why aren’t we talking about the guns?

What does it take in America when there is a senseless gun shooting for the country to say enough is enough about firearms?

In January, 2010, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and near fatally wounded while having an open house for constituents at a small shopping center in her home district of Tucson, AZ. Six others at the event were killed by the gunfire; others were severely wounded.

In February, 2012, a seventeen-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, was walking to his father’s home in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, just outside of Orlando. He was carrying only a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona iced tea.

He was being surveyed and then followed by a “neighborhood watchman,” George Zimmerman. By Florida law, Zimmerman was permitted to carry a gun, in this case a 9 mm gun, a primary weapon of the U.S. military. While the facts are not entirely clear (and may never be so if there is not a trial), Zimmerman wound up shooting Martin in the chest and killing him.

Virtually everyone from the president of the United States to most publications have been absolutely silent about the role of guns in these incidents and the need for meaningful gun control legislation.

In the 1960s, gun violence was rampant. Four major leaders were struck down by bullets, each by a single shooter: President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X. After each incident, there were calls for new legislation to make it more difficult for individuals to acquire handguns and rifles. The concern about guns was further raised by how they were being used in a variety of other ways from riots in American cities, a frustrating war in Vietnam, and a rising crime rate throughout the United States.

Fifty years ago, the National Rifle Association was a powerful lobby in Washington, DC and across the country. However, their strategy to prevent gun control legislation was quite different than it is now. The N.R.A. persistently made the argument that guns needed to be legal and accessible because they provided the best means of citizens protecting themselves against would-be criminals. While that argument is still used, it has largely been supplanted by the somewhat theoretical contention that the Second Amendment to the United States entitles citizens to own and carry guns. The language of the Second Amendment is vague and confusing; it has the cache of being attached to the Constitution, the core document of our democracy.

So long as incidents such as the Giffords and Martin shootings continue and the general public is silent about the means by which the injuries were inflicted, the question remains as to what we can do to harness the deadly carnage that guns are inflicting on our society. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, several strong opinion makers have addressed the excess use of guns both directly and indirectly with suggestions that can be effective.

In its Monday, April 9 edition, TIME MAGAZINE concluded its article on the Martin shooting by stating, “The case will unfold slowly in court and will offer only agony to Martin’s parents. But even if Zimmerman is eventually charged, it should be Florida’s gun laws that go on trial.” It’s possible that TIME will lose some readers and perhaps even advertisers for taking such a direct swipe at Florida’s week gun laws. But the magazine’s statement breaks through the near gag-order that the N.R.A. has enforced on office holders and the mainstream press in addressing the role of guns in crime.

On Sunday, March 25, New York Senator Charles Schumer was a guest on Face the Nation. While he did not directly address the issue of gun control, he was very critical of the “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere which presumably gave Zimmerman justification for shooting Martin. Under the law, if an individual feels that his life is in danger and that he might be seriously wounded or injured, he is justified in using a gun or other deadly weapon to “defend” himself. While most of the media had focused on the particulars of the Martin – Zimmerman case, Schumer directly addressed the law that made it possible for the deadly killing to take place.