I recently attended the funeral of a young man who was shot and killed by a stray bullet. His family, which ironically has been working to stop Philadelphia violence, grieved as we all would. But his friends—twenty-somethings who watched the proceedings through eyes red with more than grief—mourned bitterly. Angrily even. They mourned knowing that their friend’s death could have very well been their own.
As I watched them, something occurred to me. Young people, and young men in particular, are too often the victims and perpetrators of gun violence, and thus, they are the key to stopping it. Young men are the Columbine shooters and the Sandy Hook gunman. They are the North Philly drug dealers and the enraged college boyfriends. They are the ones who are shooting each other. But we don’t talk to young men. We talk at them. We talk about them. We talk around them, and it’s time for us to change that.
This issue is not unique to Philadelphia. Across the country, young men in their teens or twenties are involved in far too many cases of gun violence. Whether black or white, middle class or impoverished, urban or suburban, young men are committing acts of gun violence at an alarming rate.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, killed 27 in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself. On Dec. 11, 2012, Tyler Roberts, 22, killed two people and himself in Clackamas Town Center, Ore. On July 20, 2012, James Holmes, 24, killed 12 and wounded 58 at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. On Jan. 8, 2011, Jared Loughner, 22, killed six and wounded 13 other, including then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
The list goes on and on, and nearly every day in Philadelphia, another young man’s name is added.
Every American should be outraged, but especially here in Philadelphia. Our city’s homicide rate is the worst among our country’s largest cities. According to CNN, more than 80 percent of Philadelphia’s homicides are committed with a firearm. But no one is talking about the fact that the victims and perpetrators are young men; boys who understand that their lives could end at any moment; that their deaths won’t result in media coverage; that their families and few others will grieve.
We don’t quite know what to say to them, so we shake our heads in disappointment. But while we cluck our tongues at their fatalism, our sons are dying daily.
I, for one, am tired of the endless debate about gun violence. I’m tired of liberals clamoring for more restrictive gun laws. Laws alone will not solve the problem. I’m tired of the silly conservative argument that arming teachers makes schools safer. Armed teachers have no place in classrooms. I’m tired of the NRA putting profits before people, and tired of politicians retreating to their ideological corners. Our children’s lives are at stake.
We have to talk to our young men. We have to find out why they’re so willing to let violence destroy not just their own lives, but the lives of everyone around them. We have to find out why they’re so sure that they won’t live past 21. We have to learn why they can’t control their impulses. We can’t do so by just studying them. We must do so by talking to them.
We have no other choice.