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Living at Gunpoint

By Jacob J. Cedarbaum

This summer, Robert Freeman was shot dead in his neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He was 13 years old and riding his bike at the time. Sources say that after shooting him off of his bicycle, the masked gunman proceeded to stand over his wounded body and fire round after round—22 in total. Tragic stories like Freeman’s are too common these days in my hometown.

If one wants more proof of Chicago’s descent into gun-related horror, the evidence is too easy to find. In one 24-hour period in late May, there were 22 shooting victims—all separate incidences. Over the weekend of June 18, more than 40 Chicagoans were victims of gun violence. I could easily go on. At one point, state lawmakers in Springfield seriously considered dispatching the Illinois National Guard to bring gun violence under control in the city. One representative, LaShawn Ford, reflecting the desperation and heartbreak that has characterized the summer, stated, “If they can save even one life, one child, in my community, I would welcome the National Guard with open arms and I am confident that my constituents would as well.” Even Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has appealed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help combat the city’s intense gang problem, which is seen to be a major cause of recent rises in gun violence.

But while Chicago (and most other major US cities) burned, the big national gun news of the summer was the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonald v. Chicago to strike down the city’s handgun ban and declare that Second Amendment protections extended to state and city levels as well as the federal level.It was a big win for the National Rifle Assocation—not so much for American cities.

Opponents of gun regulation point to the rise of gun-related deaths in Chicago despite the handgun ban as evidence that gun control does not work. I reject this argument because the alternative is to accept that Americans are inherently a crueler and more violent people, many times over, than any other on the planet, the logical conclusion of the glib “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” defense. Britain, Germany, and Spain, all of which have very strict gun-control laws suffered a total of 293 gun murders in 2006. The United States had 9,484.

We need to get serious about smart and effective gun-control legislation. Obvious starts such as closing the “Gun Show Loophole,” which allows the sale of guns at gun shows without background checks or record-keeping, must be coupled with more funding for cities and states to enforce controls already in effect. Such measures do not mean the end of guns in America as NRA doomsayers would have people think. Most guns should remain available upon a thorough background check and waiting period. However, the notion that anyone has a use for a military-style rifle for recreational purposes is absurd, and those who defend their sale on the floor of Congress do this country a grave disservice.

Gang problems are equally culpable and need to be addressed as well in order to stem the rising tide of gun violence. More police with better, and more community-friendly, tactics are needed. Community outreach, whether through the church, through city government, or through other local programs, is also an essential element to reducing gang-perpetrated gun violence. Boston has led the way with such community initiatives as the “Ten Point Coalition” and “Operation Ceasefire.” Similar programs have produced stunning results in violence-reduction and often only fail for want of funding. The Obama administration has been much more amenable to such approaches than its predecessor, but there is still more to do.

To be frank, I am sick and tired of reading in the Chicago Tribune each morning about another teenager mowed down by an automatic weapon, another child killed in a drive-by shooting, or another parent or grandparent slain as bystanders. The time to act is now. Lawmakers need to stop cowering before the NRA, do their job, and protect the American people. And if that means more spending on police operations, community and gang outreach initiatives, and gun-control enforcement, so be it. Call me a big-spending liberal, but just try to explain to Freeman’s mother why saving a few tax dollars was more important than potentially saving her son’s life.

Jacob J. Cedarbaum ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history and history of art and architecture concentrator in Currier House.

CORRECTION: November 8, 2010

An earlier version of the Nov. 5 op-ed "Living At Gunpoint" referred to "semi-automatic machine guns" and implied that they are legal to purchase in the United States. In fact, the term semi-automatic machine gun is incorrect; semi-automatic rifles are legal to purchase. Additionally, the writer intended to state that the sale of military-style rifles is defended in Congress, not assault weapons. The Crimson regrets the errors.

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