When I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I often talked about things we would never do. We would never wear certain dorky clothes. We would never join certain clubs. We would never date certain people and we certainly would never date interracially.
However, whenever we would make one of these “I never would” declarations another of us would say, “What’s your number?” That question implied that there was some price that would get us to renege on the “I would never” declaration. We typically maxed out at one million dollars as in, “would you do it for a million dollars?”
The implication of “what’s your number?” is that we all have a price or a limit. Recent items in our news have caused me to wonder what our (as in our society) number is as the news of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, has left 14 dead and 17 injured (as of 6 p.m.). This follows the horrific shootings resulting in 9 deaths in an Oregon community college. Earlier this year, 9 people were shot to death while in Bible study at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Was 9 the number that finally prompted us to institute some sensible gun control? Of course not! We know 9 isn’t enough to move us because 12 people were gunned down in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. So maybe the number is 12. But wait, 12 can’t be the number because 14 people were killed today. But 14 can’t be the number because 26 were killed in an elementary school in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And, most of those killed were children. So, clearly 26 is not the number.
According to the Center for Disease Control in 2013 gun violence resulted in 11,208 people in the US who were victims of homicide, 21,175 were suicides, 505 were accidental, and 281 were of undetermined intent. So, 33,169 is NOT the number.
Apparently we have an unlimited tolerance for gun deaths.
Nothing about this rampant gun violence makes any sense to me. I grew up in a large city — almost 2 million people at the time — with incredible diversity. But, this huge complex city was not the murder factory then that it has now become. What’s changed? We can argue over all kinds of probable causes. We can point to rampant drugs in our communities. We can point to wage inequality. We can point to glorification of violence in our entertainment and other media. And, all might be contributory. All I know is that you cannot shoot people with a gun you do not have.
The ready availability of guns in this country is a controversial issue. People are quick to point to the Second Amendment and our “right to bear arms” and I agree that the Constitution does make that guarantee. I think the Constitution is a magnificent document. It has stood the test of time. It is what allows for the orderly transition of power in our highest offices. It protects the minority. And I see it as a living, breathing document, not some dead, irrelevant piece of paper. I do not believe we can interpret the founders’ original intent despite probing their other writings and positions. Indeed, I think the Constitution was written with broad latitude and interpretive powers so it would stand the test of time. However, the idea that the right to bear arms was intended for individuals to stockpile arsenals in their homes seems a stretch.
I am weary of reading about gun violence, particularly in the African-American community. I am weary of watching mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, and sons and daughters grieving over another senseless murder. I could see that weariness on President Obama’s face (and heard it in his voice) as he addressed the nation yet again about citizens being gunned down for no reason.
He seemed to be asking my question, “America, what’s the number?”