Gun violence spiked across the country in 2020, the most violent year in decades. 19,000 were killed in shootings, the highest death toll in 20 years (and that does not include gun suicides). Mass shootings — defined as four or more shot in an incident — also rose drastically to over 600.
Chicago’s 769 homicides in 2020 were, according to ABC News, “more homicides than in all but one year in more than two decades.” The 4,033 shooting victims were also drastically higher. The spike in Chicago was echoed in other big cities like Detroit, Washington, D.C., New York and Atlanta and in smaller cities like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Rockford, Illinois. In all these cities, the victims are disproportionately people of color. The new year started off where the old ended, with 30 people shot and five killed in Chicago over the holiday weekend. We are killing one another in larger numbers in the midst of the national pandemic.
The experts agree on the underlying causes. The COVID-19 economic devastation increased misery, anger, and fear. More and more found themselves under harsh pressure, unable to keep the roof over their heads, get adequate schooling for the young, secure decent health care and adequate food. The pandemic also caused a severe cutback in violence prevention programs, in conflict de-escalation services. The George Floyd murder and recurrent police violence exacerbated the tensions.
And most important of all, of course, is America’s perverse addiction to guns. The year 2020 witnessed record sales of guns across the country. There are 5 million new gun owners in America. Sensible gun regulations have been blocked at the federal and state level. In too many instances, state legislatures have blocked the efforts of cities to regulate guns. Guns are not made in Chicago. There are no gun ranges. Guns are brought in across state lines.
The result is, frankly, absurd. The ban on assault weapons, weapons designed to kill people in large numbers in warfare, has been repealed. States across the country allow open carry and camouflaged carry. Protesters surrounded the Michigan legislature armed with rifles and guns.
Others threatened and began to plot an armed kidnapping of the governor, protesting her sensible COVID restrictions. At Donald Trump’s calling, the streets of Washington, D.C., will be filled with protesters, many of them armed.
This is yet another example of how a rabid minority — dispensing lots of cash and armies of lobbyists — can spurn the will of the majority. The majority of Americans want sensible gun control laws. Now, however, there is a yawning partisan divide with Democrats and Independents supporting stronger gun control and Republican support waning.
With gun violence spiking and political disputes turning into armed confrontations, it is past time for real leadership to step forward. Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, has shown the way. As a presidential candidate, he put forth a sensible comprehensive reform agenda. As a private citizen, he has helped to support groups calling for reform. He understands, more than most, that gun violence takes far more victims than those who die. It is a major public health crisis, leaving thousands permanently disabled and in need of care.
The incoming administration inherits staggering catastrophes that it must address. Surely one of these is the growing gun violence that terrorizes our streets. This administration should push America to make a real choice about gun violence. Do we want to allow more and more violence, to witness political disputes turning into violent exchanges of gunfire? Or will we make a commitment to making our streets safer with police not having to worry about being outgunned by the violent. Banning assault weapons should be a no-brainer. Cracking down on the shipping of guns across state lines is another. Real investment in violence prevention services must be increased. Our schools should be teaching the practice and praising the courage of nonviolence.
From its endless wars to the spiking gun violence on its streets, America leads the world in violence. This is not a race we want to run or to win. It is time for the majority to be heard.
The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.