An Arm’s Length Away, Then Tragedy, Then What?

Ideas and Issues

8417189_GNew Orleans     A couple of weeks ago my daughter and some friends had gone to see a band from Lafayette playing at Chickie-Wah-Wah, a local New Orleans music club. She thought the price was a little steep, but paid it. Servicing and organizing bargaining units around that part of Louisiana she has come to love the music scene and the whole Acadiana vibe. As she told me later, she was so close to the band that Jillian Johnson, one of the women singers was hardly an arm’s length away. It was great!

Days later a man described as a “drifter” and a mental patient from near the Alabama-Georgia border who had been staying at the local Motel 6 in Lafayette walked into a showing of Amy Schumer’s reportedly hilarious Trainwreck and started firing. He wounded a bunch of people, many badly and he killed two young women, Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson.

This was just another in a series of tragic killings that we have allowed in the United States through our unconscionable lack of community and political will to do the right things about guns for the good of society as a whole and the families affected. Ironically, even Louisiana’s Governor, and wannabe President, Bobby Jindal, tried to jump into the fray and shame other states into at least having a program to automatically register people with mental health issues in a federal database.

Guns are not unknown to our family, but they’re not “familiar” with them. They’ve shot them. Relatives and friends hunt. I owned a BB gun as a boy and have a shotgun safely in Arkansas. We’re not fanatics, but there’s no excuse for not being smarter.

Social Policy Press is preparing to publish an e-book this fall by distinguished law professor, Franklin Strier, called Guns and Kids: Can We Stem the Carnage? It’s a good question and Strier has a lot to say about it and solid policy proposals for what needs to be done, especially to protect children. Children, include those of families victimized in Lafayette.

We often say that real social change in this country only comes whether it be about war-and-peace, women, race, gay rights, or many other issues, when it comes home to people. Where is the tipping point after Colorado, Connecticut, South Carolina, and now Louisiana when such tragedy has finally come close enough to enough of us that it is at “arm’s length” and forces change?

Reading a New York Times’ quote from Mary Tutwiler, mourning her friend, Jillian Johnson, and wanting her life to have more meaning, makes me hope that we are finally coming to the end of this road, as she says:

“In the past few days, I have been so sad and so angry, I didn’t know what to do with myself. But the thing about knowing Jillian is that in the same place, she would have taken it upon herself to do something. Things flash through my mind: better federal and state laws regulating the sale of guns, better databases, assault weapon bans. The national conversation is now personal – it’s my conversation as well.”

These words should be on the tip of all of our lips until there is real change and we have put this problem and the tragedies it brings much farther away than arms’ length.