Tuesday, June 21, 2016

An Open Letter to Mitch McConnell on Gun Violence

Dear Mitch McConnell,

Imagine a health crisis hitting the United States.   Imagine being a parent during this health crisis and seeing your child swept up in that crisis.   Maybe the crisis kills them.   Or perhaps it simply weakens them in some way.   Imagine seeing your child in pain or suffering, fearing they might die, or that they may never lead a full and prosperous life because of the horrible events that have befallen them. 

I imagine that this is a familiar story to you, as you've discussed your own battle with polio often, even on the Senate floor.   Back in 2005, you said:
My mother was, of course, like many mothers of young polio victims, perplexed about what to do, anxious about whether I would be disabled for the rest of my life.   
You went on to discuss your mother's own hard work to help you with the disease:
They told my mother she needed to keep me from walking. Now, imagine this. You are the mother of a 2-year-old boy. And we all know how anxious little boys are to get up and get around and get into trouble. So my mother convinced me that I could walk, but I couldn't walk--a pretty subtle concept to try to convey to a 2-year-old. In other words, she wanted me to think I could walk, but she wanted me to also understand I should not walk.  
Now, obviously, the only way to enforce that with a 2-year-old is to watch them like a hawk all the time. So I was under intense observation by my mother for 2 years. She administered this physical therapy regiment at least three times a day--all of this really before my recollection. But we now know the things that happened to us in the first 5 years of our lives have an enormous impact on us for the rest of our lives. 
 And you summed up the fear of the time like this:  
When I was a youngster, the fear of polio was enormous. Mothers, every summer, lived in fear that their children would come down with polio, and many did, many died. Many had much more serious aftereffects than I did, certainly. 
Well what if the United States had a public health epidemic and the government told you that there was nothing that could be done?  What if they said that these polio deaths were the price we paid for living in a free society?  What if they made these statements while taking money from an industry that profited off of continued polio sickness and death?

That's the way it feels being a parent in the age of mass shootings.  As parents we live knowing that when we send our kids to school in the morning, or college in the fall, or finally see them move into a happy and successful life as an adult, it can all be ended in seconds by one person with military style firepower and ammo.   When you were a child and young adult, I would imagine that schools, colleges, and movie theaters were places you trusted to be safe.   Today they are potentially mass killing grounds.

Mitch, reread that statement you made about mothers and the fear of polio.  If your mother were alive, what would she say when she watches you bow down to the NRA and actively working to block sensible gun laws to help reduce or eliminate gun violence against children?    Imagine if instead of getting polio as a young child, you were injured physically or emotionally by one of these shootings?  Do you think your mother would sit back and accept that nothing could be done? Would she be proud watching you ignore the pleas of parents scarred by gun violence, and those parents who fear it will happen to their own children?   Would she be happy to know you did nothing even as one of your own colleagues was almost killed in a similar shooting?    If it were my daughter doing the same, I wouldn't be proud.  I'd be deeply saddened and ashamed.   

But know that just as noble men and women decades ago banded together to eliminate the polio that threatened your health, you can take steps toward eliminating the health crisis of gun violence.  I beg you to break the stranglehold that the NRA has on your party.  Instead of being a barrier, you can help make sensible laws that protect children and adults from gun violence, advance research into gun violence and gun safety, and work toward addressing a gun culture that advances the idea that guns are the ultimate resolution to conflicts in our life.   I have to imagine it's what your mother would have wanted to see had you been a child in 2016.