Time for the gun in­dus­try and NRA to ac­cept blame for Amer­ica’s blood­shed

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - LAURA WASH­ING­TON lauraswash­ing­ton@aol.com | @Me­di­aDervish Laura Wash­ing­ton is a colum­nist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst for ABC7-Chicago.

As Amer­ica seeks an­swers to gun vi­o­lence, the gun in­dus­try should be in our na­tion’s sights.

A study re­leased last week by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress de­tails how the gun lobby over decades has in­su­lated it­self from re­spon­si­bil­ity for the 40,000 peo­ple who are shot and killed in the U.S. each year. As a re­sult, guns keep flow­ing onto the streets, lead­ing to deaths and ex­ac­er­bat­ing ten­sions be­tween po­lice and com­mu­ni­ties.

Since 2013, Chicago po­lice have re­cov­ered more than 7,000 guns used in crimes.

This has to stop.

Both man­u­fac­tur­ers and gun deal­ers could play a huge role in mak­ing Amer­ica safer. Gun deal­ers could do more to keep guns out of crim­i­nal hands. Man­u­fac­tur­ers could in­sist deal­ers adopt safer prac­tices. Gun­mak­ers could de­sign guns that thieves or chil­dren can’t fire eas­ily.

They could think about some­thing be­sides mak­ing money.

In­stead, the gun lobby con­tin­ues to ped­dle the dis­cred­ited nar­ra­tive that it is not its prod­ucts, but crim­i­nals alone, that are the prob­lem.

No one should be fall­ing for that any­more. If you care­lessly put firearms in the hands of crim­i­nals, you are also help­ing to pull the trig­ger.

“The gun de­bate has fo­cused on the demand side of the prob­lem and on the in­di­vid­u­als who end up us­ing guns,” said Chelsea Par­sons, CAP vice pres­i­dent for gun pre­ven­tion pol­icy. Peo­ple sim­ply don’t un­der­stand the shad­owy role the gun in­dus­try plays in the back­ground.

The CAP study doc­u­ments many ways the gun in­dus­try has been a rep­re­hen­si­ble cor­po­rate cit­i­zen. Among its “achieve­ments”:

It has blocked univer­sal fin­ger­print-based back­ground checks.

It has cre­ated gun-traf­fick­ing le­gal loopholes.

It has warded off over­sight by the Con­sumer Prod­uct Safety Com­mis­sion, which means no govern­ment agency has the au­thor­ity to reg­u­late guns for safety.

It pushed Congress to en­act the Pro­tec­tion of Law­ful Com­merce in Arms Act, which gave gun man­u­fac­tur­ers and deal­ers broad im­mu­nity in fed­eral and state courts.

It has made it dif­fi­cult for the un­der­funded Bu­reau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Explosives to track guns re­cov­ered at crime scenes.

It has suc­cess­fully sup­ported nu­mer­ous other mea­sures, large and small, that make Amer­ica an out­lier among ad­vanced na­tions for gun vi­o­lence.

It shouldn’t be a sur­prise that the New York at­tor­ney general on Thurs­day sued the lead­ing gun­rights lobby, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, claim­ing it di­verted some $64 mil­lion in char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions to sup­port reck­less spend­ing by ex­ec­u­tives, Ax­ios and other news out­lets re­ported. That case seeks to shut the as­so­ci­a­tion down.

A re­lated law­suit against the NRA and NRA Foun­da­tion was filed in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

The cases also shine a light on the gun man­u­fac­tur­ers who con­trib­ute to the NRA, said Kath­leen Sances, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Gun Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion PACIlli­nois. “They are the largest sup­port­ers of the NRA,” Sances said. “They don’t care that these guns end up in the sec­ondary mar­ket.”

All these is­sues have be­come much more se­ri­ous as the COVID-19 pan­demic and na­tion­wide protests have led to record sales of firearms to peo­ple who are feel­ing fear­ful and anx­ious.

But those peo­ple mostly don’t re­al­ize they are buy­ing prod­ucts that haven’t been de­signed or vet­ted for a high level of safety. We can ex­pect more ac­ci­dents and mis­use of guns. We can ex­pect more of those guns to fall into the wrong hands.

We also are see­ing an epi­demic of gun store rob­beries and bur­glar­ies, in which firearms are carted off to wind up in the hands or crim­i­nals. The ATF can do lit­tle more than write strongly worded let­ters to stores that are broken into over and over again. The gun shop own­ers just shrug, file in­sur­ance claims and go back to their daily busi­ness.

All of this adds up to more crime. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 7, guns caused 25,162 Amer­i­can deaths, ac­cord­ing to the Gun Vi­o­lence Archive.

The gun in­dus­try has proven it won’t step up to pro­tect Amer­i­cans.

When will our elected lead­ers force it to do so?

Sat­ur­day was Bud Bil­liken Day. This year, “The Bud” was ban­ished. Since 1929, the an­nual Bud Bil­liken Pa­rade has been the apex of Chicago’s sunny, sultry sum­mers, an iconic South Side cel­e­bra­tion of Black chil­dren as they head back to school.

This year, the largest African Amer­i­can pa­rade in the United States was can­celed, for the first time in 91 years, called off by the mer­ci­less re­stric­tions of COVID-19.

In 1929, Robert S. Ab­bott, founder and pub­lisher of the leg­endary Chicago De­fender news­pa­per, launched the pa­rade to cel­e­brate childhood and the joys of sum­mer. It was spon­sored by the Chicago De­fender Char­i­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to the pa­rade’s web­site, in the 1900s, a Bil­liken “was a charm doll em­bod­i­ment of good luck and fortune and was also re­garded as the guardian of chil­dren.”

So the cheer­ful, smil­ing “Bud” be­came a guardian of Chicago’s Black chil­dren, a mas­cot who marches them back to school af­ter their sum­mer of fun.

My childhood mem­o­ries are steeped in the pa­rade. Mama would take me by the hand to revel in the rau­cous, free­wheel­ing fes­tiv­i­ties.

It was my pa­rade. We would watch my mother’s younger sis­ter, the lovely Aunt Jackie, sparkle in pink taffeta as she twirled a ba­ton in sync with the high school band.

It was our pa­rade. Daddy’s buddy lived in an apart­ment that over­looked South Park, the long, wide boule­vard later re­named for Martin Luther King. We vis­ited and scram­bled to the win­dows to watch the pa­rade wind through Bronzevill­e and on to Wash­ing­ton Park, where the smell of pic­nic bar­be­cue and soul mu­sic wafted in the air.

There were march­ing bands, dancers, singers, celebri­ties, mas­sive floats, all swirling in a hur­ri­cane of color, song, love and light.

There were float­ing Jesse White Tum­blers, sashay­ing teen dancers in col­or­ful re­galia, and celebrity ap­pear­ances from the likes of Nat King Cole to Michael Jor­dan to Aretha Franklin to Barack Obama.

The pa­rade is a proud state­ment of our black­ness.

On Sat­ur­day, the pa­rade was com­mem­o­rated with a one-hour, tele­vised spe­cial on ABC7, pay­ing trib­ute via videos and in­ter­views.

Still, we lost our “pro­tec­tor of chil­dren.”

Bud Bil­liken is not there when our girls and boys need him most. Black fam­i­lies on Chicago’s South and West sides have been swamped by the per­ils of the pan­demic, their chil­dren im­pris­oned by its fears.

This sum­mer, there was no time to play. No time for bas­ket­ball hoops, beach out­ings, chas­ing but­ter­flies, grab­bing a pop­si­cle at the cor­ner store.

The mag­i­cal Bil­liken can­not guard Black chil­dren from the dark clouds of ill­ness and death among par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles, cousins, neigh­bors. “The Bud” can­not shield them from dis­ap­pear­ing jobs and lost hope.

Our ba­bies are be­ing gunned down in the streets. At least a half-dozen chil­dren have been shot to death in Chicago since June, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

Bud is not there to stop the war­ring street gangs who are shoot­ing each other over raggedy street cor­ners and petty in­sults.

As our chil­dren head back to school, there is no school, at least not the brick-and-mor­tar kind. A vir­tual class­room will not feel like a wel­com­ing place, es­pe­cially while the “grown-ups” at the Chicago Pub­lic Schools, City Hall and the Chicago Teach­ers Union bicker over the re­open­ing. While the chil­dren and par­ents suf­fer the col­lat­eral dam­age.

The Bud will not be there to guard them.

JOSHUA LOTT/GETTY IM­AGES

Yel­low tape cor­dons off the scene where a teenager was killed in the 7300 block of South Sang­a­mon Street in 2016.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Geek­squad mem­bers dance dur­ing the 90th Bud Bil­liken Pa­rade in Bronzevill­e on Aug. 10, 2019.

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