Congresswoman Jackie Speier

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OP-ED: The faces of gun violence

February 26, 2013

San Mateo Daily Journal
By Jackie Speier

February 26, 2013

The NRA leadership would like nothing better than for us to forget the image of 20 tiny coffins in Newtown, Conn. But that view does not represent the majority of the American people who agree with Gabby Giffords that the time to act is now.

Ninety-two percent of Americans support universal background checks for gun buyers, including 87 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members. Sixty-nine percent of Americans support a ban of semiautomatic assault weapons and 63 percent of Americans support limiting the capacity of gun magazines.

These numbers should speak for themselves and translate into action, but too often our short attention span makes us lose focus and forget our outrage — until we are rattled by the next mass shooting. I have been guilty of that, but Newtown was different. It made me regret that I have not done more to stop the unspeakable carnage.

We measure the unspeakable in numbers. There is a mass shooting somewhere in America every two weeks. Over the past five years, at least 774 people have died in mass killings, including 161 children under 13. Between 10,000 and 11,000 Americans die from gun shots every year. Every day, 32 people are killed by bullets.

These overwhelming numbers can distract from the ugliness and cost of each individual murder. Noah Pozner, the youngest shooting victim at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was shot 11 times. His mother Veronique felt compelled to expose the ugliness of her son’s death. At his funeral, Noah was in an open casket. Pozner said: “We all saw how beautiful he was. He had thick, shiny hair, beautiful long eyelashes that rested on his cheeks. He looked like he was sleeping. But the reality of it was under the cloth he had covering his mouth there was no mouth left. His jaw was blown away. I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized. And that is what haunts me at night.”

Every time I think about Veronique Pozner’s words, a knot forms in my stomach and I shiver. I imagine the unbearable grief I would be enduring if Noah was my child. I imagine the grief my grandmother would have felt had I not survived on that dirt landing strip in Jonestown, Guyana 34 years ago. While I was lying there, the right side of my body shattered by five bullets pumped into me at point-blank range, I couldn’t bear the thought of my grandmother having to attend my funeral. That fear made me want to survive. I did, but for every person who doesn’t survive, there is a mother, a father, a grandmother, a grandfather, a brother, a sister, a son or a daughter who is left with the ugliness and mental scars of gun violence forever.

Veronique Pozner asked Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy to visit the funeral home and see Noah in the open casket. She said she needed the governor to picture Noah’s face, so that “if there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”

It needs to be real for all of us and now is the time to pass legislation in Congress for the president to sign into law. We need to pass a universal background check, a ban on large magazines, a ban on assault weapons, crack down on gun trafficking, remove the handcuffs on law enforcement, remove the gag order on gun safety research, keep illegal and unwanted guns off the streets, invest in gun safety technology research and development, close the holes in our mental health system and take steps to enhance school safety. Let’s be clear, none of these proposals will infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Law-abiding citizens will still be able to own guns to protect them in their homes or to use for recreational purposes. The Supreme Court has spoken loud and clear on the right of every American to own a gun for those purposes.

The American people have not forgotten the 20 tiny coffins; members of Congress must not forget them either.

Jackie Speier represents District 14 in the U.S. House of Representatives. She lives in Hillsborough. 

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