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The American epidemic and how Wednesday changed nothing

My congressional offices' softball team from yesteryear


The American epidemic and how Wednesday changed nothing

There was a saying among us kids who grew up in Northwest Indiana – more affectionately called “The Region.”  If you didn’t know of someone or heard of someone who had been shot, and/ or killed, you weren’t truly from “The Region.”  During the mid-1990’s, Gary, Indiana had the highest murder rate per capita in the country.  There was even a billboard, sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61, overlooking the interstate warning how visitors should “Proceed with EXTREME CAUTION.”

I’ll let that perspective settle in before continuing.

See, in our small world, it was the defining thing that separated us from the kids who we believed lived in the safety of the “suburbs” of southern Lake and Porter Counties.  At that time, it never seemed that any of those kids had to deal with the very real fact we lived with every day.  One of your friends might die on any given evening due to an intentionally or accidentally shot bullet.

Then Columbine happened a few weeks before my high school graduation.  The April 20, 1999 shooting tolled 13 deaths and injured another 21.  For those who remember what the world was like before the internet, Columbine fundamentally changed our world view.  It did to us what 9-11 did for those kids coming up right after us.  I went to college with a survivor of that shooting and she wouldn’t talk about it.

At the time, we did what people do at the beginning of an epidemic.  We blamed.  We hid from the truth.  We swept it under the rug.  We moved on.

Then the shooting at Virginia Tech occurred.  That one claimed thirty-two and wounded seventeen.  I actually knew the first victim of that day.  Stack Clark.  Great kid.  Bright future ahead of him.  Stack was shot and killed because as the floors Resident Assistant he was checking on a disturbance between the shooter and a female. He was just trying to help.

Six years ago it was the shooting in Tuscon that shocked us.  Six killed and numerous injured including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  The first person killed was a Congressional Staffer.  I had moved on from my staffer days in the U.S. Senate, but as Speaker Ryan declared – if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.  Staffers and Members of Congress are family.  We fight a lot.  We have different opinions about very serious matters.  But we love each other for the shear fact that we know each of us are dedicated to making our country a better place.  So, yes, I was angry knowing that some deranged gunman had specifically targeted “one of us.”

I was in law school when Tuscon happened.  My constitutional law professor decided to ditch a whole day’s lesson to discuss it.  A lot of people had a lot of different opinions.  I had seen the outrage before.  I was the only one of ninety or so that had any legislative experience and so I waited until the end of the class to give my take.  I told them that all their anger and all their rage didn’t matter.  A bill would be drafted and a lot of co-sponsors would sign on.   It would be sent to a committee who would send it to a subcommittee.  It would be stuck in a drawer and it would never see the light of day again.  The class disagreed.  That’s what happened.

Five years ago, six and seven year olds were gunned down along with some of their teachers and administrators in Newtown, Connecticut.  Twenty bright eyed, laughing, smiling, fun loving kids who went to school that day to play and learn with their friends without a care in the entire world except maybe what cartoon their parents were going to let them watch when they got home.  I weep even now thinking about those kids.  I can’t even imagine the unspeakable horror that those first responders must still be dealing with.  As a father of a three-and-a-half-year-old, I can only empathize with those parents.  Surely, we all thought: this would do it.  This would make a difference and make us confront our illness; our addiction.  All attempts failed.

Then one year ago we had the horror of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that claimed the lives of forty-nine and wounded another fifty-eight.  A lot of us felt the fear of our friends in the LGBTQ community this caused.  Words of sincerity were expressed.  No action taken.  Only more laws enacted that targeted their community.

And that brings us to Wednesday.  Another attack on my extended family.  Speaker Ryan’s tone was perfect.  His words great, serious, and correct.  “[W]e are family,” he said.  “So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now.  Because we are.  I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together, to lift each other up, and to show the country – show the world – that we are one House.”

Do you notice what’s not in there?  There’s no call to action.  There’s no invitation to seriously debate access to high capacity magazines or rifles designed for military service.  A common trait of mass shooters is their propensity for crimes against women, but that’s not even discussed in the halls of Congress.  For all the talk about increasing access to mental health services, the AHCA drastically cuts the ability to access those benefits.  In fact, one of the first things this Congress did was give the mentally disabled their second amendment rights back.  There seems to be no recognition that, by two major publications counts, Wednesday was the 154th mass shooting and there have been almost 7,000 “gun deaths” just this year.  If this was your family member, as Speaker Ryan stated, would you do nothing?  If you had the power that Speaker Ryan does would you allow another tragedy to pass without action?  I doubt it.

I fear Wednesday changed nothing.  And, in some way or another, we’re all from “The Region” now.

Ziemba, a native of Northwest Indiana, now makes Indianapolis his home with his wife and young son. A graduate of DePauw University, he has served in city, county, state, and federal government as well as on campaigns for each level of public service. An attorney by trade, he has a knack for commentary on history and the role it plays in society today, the arts in our community, being a father in the digital age, and the all important bigger picture in life.

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