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Freedom is not the last word: We need more sensible gun laws

REUTERS/David McNew

“Butch was shot. He’s dead.”

Sondra Samuels

When I was a 14-year-old growing up in New Jersey, these five words caused an emotional tsunami that has altered my life forever. These simple words violently upended my innocence, my sense of safety and trust of adults. 

Butch was just 13 years old. He was my ‘Frenemy.’ Always clowning around, Butch was known for slapping girls on our tender budding breasts and then running fast to escape our wrath. I remember he had light skin, sorta wavy hair and was shorter than most of the other boys in his grade. He was popular. As the son of a respected police officer in town, he stayed out of trouble. Though he sometimes hung around some of the rougher boys in school, he never really was one of them. He was their jokester. On the day he was killed by a bullet intended for another African-American young man, no one was laughing.

I had so many questions. Why Butch? Why couldn’t his father protect him like he did so many others? Which one of us would be next? Why didn’t the world stop — Butch was dead!! Why didn’t the adults stop everything to make Butch’s life the most important thing?

There are throngs of children like Butch who are killed each year by gun violence in our state. Young kids like Charez Jones (14 years old), Anthony Titus (16 years old), Alicia Neeley (17 years old) and Terrell Mayes (3 years old), to name a few, all gunned down in my North Minneapolis neighborhood.

Almost 10 children a year

And there are many more across the state. According to a May 2015 Star Tribune article, in the last 12 years, 116 Minnesota youths under 18 years of age died from shootings — that’s almost 10 children a year. A few were killed by accident, most by murder. All had their lives inhumanely shortened because we, the adults, tragically failed to protect them from gun violence.

I am convinced that one of the key solutions to our country’s deepening killing crisis is for all of us to have the moral courage and conviction to demand more sensible gun laws of our elected officials — now!

We must demand that they pass laws to make high-powered assault weapons used for war illegal on our streets. We must close the loophole at gun shows and make it mandatory that ALL people selling guns conduct background checks. And we must make it illegal to sell large-capacity magazine clips that kill and injure far more victims in mass shootings.

Finally, I urge everyone who cares about the safety of our children to lock arms with those of us fighting for sensible gun laws. We are the majority. And while I think we must also defend the freedom of responsible Americans to own guns, it must be with the understanding that our freedoms as citizens have to be balanced by our responsibilities toward one another.

In the end, our only means to a safe and healthy society is by ensuring that my individual right to own a gun is balanced by my responsibility toward you, my neighbor, and your right to live.

‘Freedom is only part of the story’

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist, believed that since there is a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast there should be a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. He also stated something that I, too, believe: “Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.”

May our last words to our children be: “We loved you enough to keep you safe from gun violence.”

Sondra Samuels is the president and CEO of The Northside Achievement Zone. This commentary was originally published by the Minnesota Women’s Press and is republished with permission.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 01/29/2016 - 08:51 am.

    Please look to see if any of those children Charez, Anthony, Alicia and Terrell were shot with assault type weapons or guns bought legally at a gun show. I also believe that every member of our society should be protected or have the right to protect themselves. If we are going to pass new laws to protect everyone they might as well help the problem not just cover liberal talking points. Illegally bought handguns is the main problem. Let’s work on that before we pass new laws that won’t help protect our children.

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 01/29/2016 - 09:22 am.

      Oh come on

      you can do better than continue to trot out the same excuses over and over and over and over – it gets tiring.
      The father and son duo that were killed last week at a gun show over a $25 fee – remind me, were they good guys with guns. Or how about that brave patriot who was so afraid there would be a shooting at a movie theater last week, that he had to bring his gun, only to shoot an innocent women. Seems like legally obtained firearms are the problem. But these folks were all white, so it’s cool right.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/29/2016 - 09:39 am.

      Just out of curiosity

      “Illegally bought handguns is the main problem. Let’s work on that before we pass new laws that won’t help protect our children.”

      Not to pick on you in particular, Joe, but I’ve heard that a lot over the years along with the idea that “There are plenty of laws on the books already. All we need to do is enforce them.”

      Question is, how does anyone know whether or not a gun (of any variety) was purchased illegally until after the crime has been committed and the person that committed it has been tracked down and arrested (if they actually are arrested)?

      Or to put that a little differently, how do you prevent someone from purchasing a gun illegally before they have a chance to use it?

      How do you suggest we “work on that” without passing any new laws?

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/29/2016 - 12:55 pm.

    Gun Laws

    A sensible first place to start with this issue would be to tighten our processes so we know who has what guns.

    1. All transactions should go through a background check.
    2. All guns and rifles should be registered.

    The former will help keep some guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, although people who haven’t shown up on the law enforcement’s radar will still pass through.

    The latter will make a paper trail the police can follow. If you sell your gun to someone and it ends up being used in a crime, then there’s a starting point to go back to and follow the trail of that firearm.

    It’s a sensible starting point, but certainly not the one and only solution. I think we can all agree though that the current system on the books simply isn’t working.

  3. Submitted by Mark Elmer on 01/30/2016 - 04:03 pm.

    Need more sensible gun laws?

    I have yet to hear just how gun laws will work in keeping guns out of wrong hands. The guys who don’t care about the law in the first place will continue to get guns, magazines, ammo anyway. There are Federal Laws, State Laws, etc to keep drugs out of the hands of addicts but has that worked?? NO, there will always be those elements who will supply people with banned items. We can’t even protect our borders from illegals coming in, how can we stop drugs, guns & contrabans? We have gangs in almost every city & town in this country. They will do virtually anything to make some money. Laws only protect us from Law-abiding citizens. Anyone have a “Fool Proof” solution????

    • Submitted by miki polumbaum on 03/23/2016 - 10:47 am.

      If our present gun laws are so sensible, why do they not work?

      Truthfully, our gun laws aren’t strong or sensible enough. That’s why people who have absolutely no business whatsoever being around firearms continue to get access to them. More intensive and extensive background checks are the way to go. Forcing rogue firearms dealers out of business because they don’t obey the rules and continue to sell guns to just any people that they want to sell them to on the Black Market (inotherwords, illegally.).

      Secondly, Congress should close the loophole that allows many firearms dealers and average gun owners alike to get around the gun laws, and make any kinds of sales/purchases of firearms that they like.

      Thirdly, firearms manufacturers should be required by law to implement tamper-proof safety locks in their products in order to prevent unauthorized use of a firearm in the event that it’s lost or stolen.

      Fourth: There should be a mandatory waiting period, in addition to mandatory background checks, as well.

      Fifth: People with a history of mental illness, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as anger issues should not have access to firearms. All too often, especially at gun shows, etc., dealers will sell to such a person when his/her name comes up on the dealer’s computer. That should not be.

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