Mark Brazaitis: Tennant must distinguish herself; start with guns

By By Mark Brazaitis

Dear Secretary of State Tennant,

Being a Mountaineer is a privilege. Being the Mountaineer ought to come with privileges — including the privilege to tell the truth about gun violence in the United States.

And the truth is this: Whatever we, as a country, are doing (or, more to the point, not doing) about gun violence is failing.

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six adults were killed on December 14, 2012, our children have become more, not less, at risk of dying by gun violence.

You, as the first woman to serve as the WVU Mountaineer — the rifle-toting mascot of your alma mater — are in a unique position to tell the truth about this problem. And because it is a problem, an extraordinary problem, you ought to propose a bold, comprehensive, and achievable solution.

You ought to do this to distinguish yourself from your opponent, Shelley Moore Capito, whose more-of-the-same position on gun violence is, like her position on energy independence, shortsighted, unimaginative, and harmful to the people of West Virginia.

More important, you ought to seek a solution to gun violence because our children deserve to live in a safer world.

It is impossible to read or watch another story about a mass shooting and not think, with dread, When will it be our turn? If we want the answer to be “never,” wishful thinking won’t make it happen. Leadership will.

But so far, your answer to this critical problem is to make it easier and less time-consuming for people to buy guns.

You cannot be Shelley Moore Capito Lite and hope to become our next U.S. Senator. No one is inspired by watered-down imitations.

West Virginians want a bolder and better candidate. How can we get one?

First, assure voters that when you talk about solutions to gun violence, you are not talking about potential restrictions on hunting rifles. Disarm the Mountaineer and mountaineers? Never! (And who better than you to affirm this.) Rather, you are talking about potential restrictions on hand-held weapons of mass destruction — arms used with horrifying regularity in the slaughter of thousands of Americans, including children. In 2011, according to the most recent FBI data available, 565 American children died as a result of gun violence. A staggering 119 of them were under the age of 13.

Second, tell voters that within your first 100 days in the Senate, you will convene a forum on gun violence.

What you might stress: Calling for a forum doesn’t necessarily mean you would, in the end, propose new gun-control laws (although it would be difficult to imagine a realistic plan to curtail gun violence that doesn’t include stronger gun-control measures). It would simply mean taking a thorough, thoughtful, well-informed look at the issue.

Something else to stress: Your forum would be distinct from other efforts to stem gun violence. So you wouldn’t have to declare allegiance to either President Obama, who is extraordinarily unpopular in our state, or even to the man you hope to join in the Senate, Joe Manchin, who deserves praise for his efforts on this issue. Your forum would be a fresh look — by a gun-loving freshman senator — at a long-standing problem.

Perhaps your forum might consider how we address mental illnesses in our country. Early intervention in troubling situations might be part of a solution. Certainly it would mean soliciting input from law-enforcement professionals, who are on the front lines in dealing with ill-intentioned gun-bearers.

Moreover, your forum should consider best practices from developed countries around the world, all of which experience far less gun violence than the United States. According to the United Nations, a person is 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the U.S. than in Australia, Canada, France, Japan, and other countries. They are doing something right. Let’s understand what it is and employ it.

Murders, massacres, and the horrific deaths of children, hardcore gun advocates might say, and have said, are the price of freedom. (Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher put it, with cold-hearted candor, this way: “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”) But what about freedom from fear? What about freedom from senseless death? What about the freedom to grow up and prosper in a country free of the violent whims of automatic-rifle-bearing madmen?

In addition to being the former Mountaineer, you are a parent. These are both powerful platforms from which to speak about the issue of gun violence. You know the pleasures of gun ownership. You also know what it means to worry deeply about a child’s safety and future.

To ignore the problem of gun violence is to sanction the next assault on an unsuspecting and innocent population.

Shelley Moore Capito wants the status quo. I hope you want better. Otherwise, why vote for you?

Brazaitis, of Morgantown, is the author of six books, including Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award.

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