Even before Orlando, you gave a very impassioned speech in Chicago about gun violence. Part of what you said is “moments of silence in Congress just aren’t going to cut it any more.” Will this sit-in be part of what might finally move Congress to action?
I truly hope so. So far this year, more than 300 people have been killed by gun violence in Chicago, with nearly 1800 injured. That’s just since the beginning of this year. In one city. Many other cities share a similar sorrow. We can no longer ignore the fact that America is in the grips of a gun violence epidemic. We can no longer hide behind hollow gestures like moments of silence to assuage Congress’ guilt for failing to act on commonsense gun legislation to save lives. That’s why I took a seat during the moment of silence for San Bernardino last year and haven’t stood since. That small protest is what led to the historic sit-in you’re seeing today as more Members joined me in demanding that Congress do something real about gun violence. I believe in honoring gun violence victims and their families through action. I’m sitting-in for them.
Earlier today, one of my students sent me a message and told me she was glued to C-Span. She said she didn’t know whether she should feel proud that her lawmakers were being bold or depressed that her lawmakers were forced to take the same kinds of civil disobedience actions she and her friends feel they have to take. She asked me, “is government completely broken?” Do you have an answer for her?
Our government isn’t broken, but it’s a little bent. It doesn’t always function in the best interests of the American people. But there are people in Congress who are in it for the right reasons, to represent her and her friends and all Americans who believe that their government should work for them, not against them, that it should put people above politics. Those are the people sitting-in on the House floor today. Those are the people who make me proud to be a Member of this body. And we need more like them. So I would encourage her and her friends to vote and to get their circles to vote and so on until we have more Members of purpose so we can achieve real progress for the American people.
Mass shootings like Orlando have a tendency to focus our attention as a nation but you know from representing Chicago that the majority of America’s gun violence victims die or are wounded in very different kinds of shootings. Is there any way to create legislation that will help those victims of the more routine forms of gun violence?
Absolutely. I have several pieces of legislation that would help–from bills that would keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, to economic development bills that would rebuild underserved communities to provide alternatives to violence and pathways to peace. I also have a bill that would require the U.S. Surgeon General to study the public health effects of gun violence so that we as a nation could write a prescription for the cure. In my 2005 Kelly Report on Gun Violence in America, I provide a blueprint for ending the epidemic. We have the way. We just need the will.
Are you optimistic? Can we make change as a country or will we all soon be reporting on the next horrible gun tragedy?
I have to be optimistic to do what I do. I have to believe that the day will come when the right of all Americans to live free of the threat of gun violence will be a given and not up for debate. It’s not going to happen overnight. Far too many have accepted gun violence as a fact of life but it’s not. It’s not normal, natural or necessary. No other country lives this way. And I fundamentally believe that we are better as a nation than this.