My Turn: Citizens must rise up against guns, and for our children

By ROB OKUN

Published: 04-06-2023 8:46 AM

“Until people start to go into the streets and protest, we’re not going to see the changes … If you don’t have the people rising up, like what they did with civil rights, like what they did to end the Vietnam War … If you don’t have that, [politicians] are going to keep passing the buck.” — Former Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich

Within the last few weeks, citizens in Israel and the republic of Georgia took to the streets and successfully stopped wildly unpopular actions by their governments. This spring, are we about to see that happen in the U.S.? School shootings are “wildly unpopular,” yet in the decade since Sandy Hook, little has changed.

Yes, a month after last May’s school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Congress passed modest gun reform legislation, the first law in nearly three decades. In the wake of the Nashville murders of six, including three 9-year-olds, isn’t it time to go further? We got a hint that the answer is yes the other day, when 1,500 people, including many students, flooded the State Capitol in Nashville demanding gun control.

On April 5, students across the country walked out of campuses in a coordinated campaign organized by Students Demand Action. They published online a comprehensive action toolkit which, they say, can be used anytime.

I hope that not just students — but people everywhere — will organize mass demonstrations in state capitals and Washington, D.C. Perhaps they’re being planned, right now, for the day before Mother’s or Father’s Day. Or, maybe, there will be rolling actions in the streets over the five weeks between those holidays (May 13 to June 17).

I have a dream that the organizations working for gun reform are meeting, perhaps over Zoom, to coordinate a nationwide citizen uprising. Here’s an admittedly incomplete list of major groups working on gun control: Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence; Change The Ref; Coalition To Stop Gun Violence; Everytown For Gun Safety; Giffords; Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America; Sandy Hook Promise; and the aforementioned Students Demand Action. There are plenty of opportunities for us to get involved with any of them.

Of course, the NRA, Gun Owners Of America and their Republican enablers are doubling down. After the Nashville shooting, Tennessee GOP Rep. Tim Burchett, who represents Knoxville, a couple hours from Nashville, told reporters that “laws don’t work” to curb gun violence.

“It’s a horrible, horrible situation,” Burchett told reporters. “And we’re not gonna fix it,” adding there isn’t “any real role” for Congress to play in reducing gun violence other than to “mess things up. I don’t think you’re gonna stop the gun violence,” he claimed. “I think you gotta change people’s hearts.”

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Huh?! Too many hearts have stopped beating, Rep. Burchett. Too many hearts are bruised and broken. Still, because ours are still beating, we’re rising up.

In just the first three months of the year, the Gun Violence Archive has counted 130 mass shootings in the U.S. Burchett may believe there’s nothing to do; his constituents feel differently. There’s plenty to do, including planning to unseat him in 2024.

Why do I feel hopeful? When a conservative former Republican member of Congress and governor, like Kasich, urges citizens take to the streets to force politicians to pass gun laws with teeth, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind’s blowing.

The old John Kasich was a Second Amendment stalwart, toeing the party line, even once boasting that he was in good standing with the NRA. That was then. Now, as Mr. Kasich said recently on national television, he’s been reading up on the civil rights-era Montgomery bus boycott, seeing the connection between that campaign and today.

“Those women down there in Montgomery. They just kept marching. They kept doing everything they could. And that’s what it’s going to take here,” he said.

With tens of thousands of people in the ex-Soviet state of Georgia, and hundreds of thousands across Israel rising up, anything is possible here. The outpouring at the Tennessee state house is just the beginning.

Kasich is encouraging people to “begin to get into the street and say enough of this … We all have to mobilize. Without it, the politicians will look the other way. It’s not going to happen in a week or two. It has to be ongoing in order to get this changed.”

From a Republican politician’s mouth to God’s ears. It’s time.

Rob Okun (rob@voicemalemagazine.org) is editor-publisher of Voice Male, a magazine chronicling the antisexist men’s movement for more than a quarter-century. He writes about politics and culture.

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