Dying in vain in Santa Monica and Sandy Hook

This coming Friday, it will have been six months since a shooter armed with an assault rifle killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The same day also will mark one week since another gunman, using the same type of gun, killed five in a rampage that ended at Santa Monica College (SMC).

In recent months, despite the defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate, some have suggested that Newtown fundamentally changed the politics of gun control in this country. And yet, the shooting in Santa Monica appeared to go almost entirely unnoticed, barely being mentioned in the public conversation.

“This incident is not getting the attention that some of the other shootings have had,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), whose district includes the entire city of Santa Monica, told me on Wednesday. “I think that people are getting to be inured to this kind of violence.”

Maybe. But it’s hard not to notice that even the strongest advocates of gun control legislation have been mostly silent in the aftermath of last week’s shooting.

Take Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Feinstein introduced an amendment that would have banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which was voted down by the Senate in April. On June 7, while a deadly hail of bullets was flying in her home state, Feinstein was visiting Guantanamo Bay. Her office issued two press releases that day, neither of them about the shooting.

President Barack Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address in February that “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” But last Friday he was a 10-minute drive away from SMC, and said nothing about the shooting — not that day, and not since. Obama’s advocacy group, Organizing for Action, has made gun control legislation a priority, but also made no public mention of the shooting in Santa Monica. Its Twitter feed was exclusively focused on the immigration reform bill making its way through the Senate.

Perhaps Waxman is right, that after Newtown (and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine), five dead adults doesn't shock anyone anymore. Perhaps the seeming randomness of the violence made it harder to convey the horror of what happened in Santa Monica. Maybe the timing of the shooting (Friday afternoon, Pacific Time) and the ethnicities of the victims (three working-class Latinos and two members of the gunman’s family, both of Middle Eastern descent) helped bury the story.

But it’s also possible that Newtown hasn't changed the politics around gun control as much as advocates for stronger regulations would like to believe. The defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate earlier this year appears to have taken much of the energy out of the gun control movement nationally.

With no forward momentum in Washington, community leaders in Santa Monica have been left asking questions, and calling for unity and support.

“How do we make sense of the senseless? Comprehend the incomprehensible?” Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said at a memorial service at a church on Sunday, according to Patch. The former mayor of Santa Monica, Bloom lives blocks away from the site of the shooting.

“Today, at this moment, we cannot know why,” Bloom said at the service. “Therefore it is today that we must be close to one another.”

Speakers delivered similar messages encouraging students to maintain hope in the face of tragedy at the SMC graduation on Tuesday evening, and the SMC foundation has set up memorial funds for the families of the victims who were killed on its campus.

But when it comes to passing laws that will reduce gun violence in this country, it’s hard to find reason for hope. There are a number of bills moving forward in the California legislature that will further strengthen gun control laws here, but the continued failure to pass national legislation makes it easier for illegal weapons to cross into the state. (Police are still tracing the Santa Monica shooter’s guns to determine how a person with a history of mental issues was able to obtain an assault weapon and high-capacity magazines that are already illegal in California.)

On Friday, in conjunction with the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, members of families of victims of the Newtown shooting will begin a national bus tour to urge Senators to take a second look at the background check bill that they failed to pass this spring.

Waxman met with the families in Washington recently, and he said they’re right to focus their attention on a measure requiring universal background checks on gun sales — which 90 percent of Americans support, polls say.

They’re also right to focus on Congress’s upper chamber.

“The Senate should be easier than the House,” Waxman conceded, “because we don't even know if the Republicans that run the House will even take up the issue.”

Will the six-month anniversary of Newtown on Friday bring out news cameras? Will the family’s bus tour help revive the stalled Toomey-Manchin amendment in the Senate?


But if the absence of any national reaction to last Friday’s shooting spree is any indication of how much energy Americans are willing to devote to this issue, well, the Newtown families might as well stay home.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords launches gun-control initiative

Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded two years ago in an Arizona shooting, is launching a group aimed at curbing gun violence and raising enough money to challenge the well-funded gun lobby.

Giffords, starting the effort called Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband former astronaut Mark Kelly, told ABC News that Congress must do more to prevent gun violence.

The two are gun owners, but in the wake of a string of recent mass shootings, they said more must be done to push common-sense efforts to reduce such violence.

“Enough,” Giffords, who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, told ABC in an interview aired on Tuesday.

The initiative aims to “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership,” the group said on its website, americansforresponsiblesolutions.org.

It will push for background checks for private gun sales and look at ways to better address mental illness, among other efforts, Kelly told ABC.

Gifford's group is set to take on the National Rifle Association, which in 2011 spent over eleven times more on lobbying than all gun control lobbyists combined.

Her group has set up a political action committee for donations to “raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby,” it said on its website.

“Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer,” Giffords wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday in USA Today

She added: “winning even the most common-sense reforms will require a fight … Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources.”

The announcement comes just days after Giffords visited Newtown, Connecticut, and met with families of the victims of last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which 20 children and six teachers were killed.

Giffords also recently met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who heads his own mayors' initiative that is also pushing for what he calls “reasonable” gun controls.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 Connecticut shooting, President Barack Obama has pledged to take swift action to reduce gun violence and has tapped a task force due to report later this month with possible measures.

The task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is reportedly weighing action beyond reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to include universal background checks and a national gun sales database, among other steps.

The wave of shootings and the threat of tighter gun restrictions has spurred intense reaction on both sides.

Consumer demand for guns appears to have soared in recent weeks, according to FBI data.

Gun control supporters worry that other looming issues such as the nation's debt crisis could hamper efforts in Congress to push through new legislation.

Bloomberg's group launched its own new ad on Tuesday with the mother of child who was killed in the Arizona shooting.

A prayer of healing from the tragedy in Newtown

Our hearts are breaking, God,
As our nation buries innocent children and brave teachers.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God, to grieving parents,
To siblings, family and friends in this time of shock and mourning.
Shield them from despair.
Send healing to the schoolchildren who are lost and frightened
Whose eyes witnessed unfathomable horrors.
Ease their pain, God,
Let their fears give way to hope.
Let their cries give way once more to laughter.

Bless us, God,
Work through us.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can rise up from this tragedy
With a renewed faith in the goodness of our society.
Shield us from indifference
And from our tendency to forget.
Open our hearts, open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us to act.
Remind us that we must commit ourselves to prevent further bloodshed
With all our hearts and souls.
Teach us perseverance and dedication.
Let us rise up as one in a time of soul-searching and repair
So that all children can go to school in peace, God,
Let them be safe.

God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.

Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of Nashuva: The Jewish Spiritual Outreach Center. Her books include Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration.

The speech President Obama should have given after the Connecticut school shooting

When news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School first broke, President Barack Obama stood before the nation, felt our grief and shed a tear.

It was a beautiful, touching moment — and I resented it.

I’m all for grown men crying. I’m all for presidents, in times of unexpected, shocking national tragedy, serving as a kind of pastor-in-chief, expressing our pain through their words.  

But the Sandy Hook massacre was neither shocking nor unexpected. Gunmen shooting at innocent children? Seen it — several times this year, actually. Deranged white male with access to an arsenal? As common as snowflakes. SWAT teams leading children out of schools? Grief-stricken parents arriving at the scene? Agonizing, senseless funerals? Teddy bears piled up along chain link fences? Check, check, check.

I’m not blasé — I’m angry. And Obama’s tears were exactly what I didn’t need. For comfort, I have friends and family. When I want pastoral care, I’ll see my rabbi — hey, she’s also family. What I want from my president is this: action.

So I sat down and typed out the speech I wish the president had given that afternoon, while the wounds were fresh and the nation looked to him for direction. Would the pundits have cried, “Too soon!” and accused him of politicizing the massacre? Probably, but so what? The right speech — the one I wrote — goes beyond partisan politics. 

This is the speech Obama should have given in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Dry-eyed and tear-free:

My Fellow Americans:

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. … But while we will shed tears with you, and lead this nation in mourning — again — my duty as your president does not stop there.

“My sworn duty is to protect and defend American lives, and in the wake of yet another shooting tragedy, that is what I intend to do.

I stand before you today, and face the grief-stricken parents of Newtown, and the traumatized children who survived the killer’s rampage, and I make this vow to you: I will do everything in my power as president to stop gun violence in America.

“What does this mean?

It means attacking the problem through our laws, our courts, our social services and our media.

“Make no mistake, this is a deep, festering problem that generations of politicians — including myself — have preferred not to confront head-on. There is no one simple solution. Our approach will be all encompassing and thorough. And our goal is clear: the end to gun violence in America.


“First, we will change the laws. We will enact smart and effective legislation that targets the most dangerous guns and keeps all guns out of the hands of the people most likely to use them to commit crimes. These laws will vastly improve criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. We will push for a law that requires these checks for all gun sales. Right now, background checks only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales — via private parties and gun shows, for example — take place with no background check. 

“There are over 200 million guns in this country today. The Second Amendment protects the lawful ownership and use of firearms, and that is a constitutional right we hold dear. The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens. The goal of our legislation is not to reduce the safe, legal ownership of guns, but gun violence.

“Second, we will ensure that in every court throughout this land, those who commit violent crimes with guns, as well as those whose guns are used through negligence to commit a crime, will face maximum, mandatory penalties.


“Third, we will increase our support for intervention programs targeting the mentally ill, domestic abusers, gangs and other underlying causes of gun violence. In cases where there is inadequate funding or oversight, we will immediately fix it. Since too many of these mass shootings involve long-simmering hostilities that burst out into mayhem, we will educate communities to identify the risk factors and create swift intervention procedures before violence erupts. To focus solely on guns as the problem will not solve our problem: America is not the only country with high rates of gun ownership. Switzerland and Israel have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.

“Finally, we will focus on the media. We will use all forms of media to educate our young people away from violence, to stop its relentless glorification, and to teach ways to recognize and thwart violent behavior. While we hold the First Amendment and right to free expression as sacrosanct, we must strive to use the power of the media to solve, and not exacerbate, one of our country’s gravest problems.

“My fellow Americans, as a parent, I mourn with you today. But as your president, I cannot stand idly by while the blood of my countrymen is wantonly shed.

“There are 35 victims each day in this country from gun violence. About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after this tragic day, guns will have killed another 350 people.

“I stand before you as a parent and shed tears. I stand before you as president and say: ‘Enough!’ ”

Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp. Follow him on Twitter @foodaism.  If you approve of this message, please forward to comments@whitehouse.gov.

Obama speech after Connecticut school shooting [FULL TEXT]