A young mother pushing her 13-month-old son in a stroller back from the post office was accosted by two teenagers who demanded money. She had none, she explained, which prompted the older of the two to produce a gun and threaten to shoot the baby. She again explained that she had no money, that caring for her child took it all. She pleaded for him not to harm the boy.
According to police reports, the older assailant ignored her pleas and fired three shots: two at the woman, nicking an ear and wounding her leg. He then, the mother said, calmly walked to the stroller and fired a third shot into the child’s face.
Two teens were arrested and charged with murder after the mother quickly identified a 17-year-old from 24 photographs supplied by the police. The other suspect is said to be 14. The 17-year-old was charged as an adult, making him eligible for the severest penalty under Georgia law. An aunt contended he was eating breakfast with her at the time, though police say they have sufficient evidence to dispute the alibi.
The argument is irrelevant that the heinous crime was committed by “people and not guns,” because it couldn’t have happened without one. What is pertinent is what it says about a society in which a teenager can easily find one of the estimated 300 million guns in circulation in this country and use it to deliberately murder an utterly defenseless baby boy on the street in broad daylight. The casualness of this crime is difficult for any civilized person to come to grips with.
Perhaps if the mother or the child himself had been “carrying,” they could have stopped the tragedy. That, of course, is the standard response one can expect from the National Rifle Association and its rabid followers, who use that rationalization after every nauseatingly regular gun massacre. Should we believe that no one is too young to exercise Second Amendment rights? Let’s arm the little children.
Another incident demonstrates how timid federal lawmakers will put their own political survival over a coherent, sane policy on firearms. Doing the NRA’s bidding, as usual, Republicans and some Democratic allies have managed to deny Caitlin Halligan a seat on the prestigious District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals because, as solicitor general for New York state, she pursued a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. After the gun advocates blocked her Senate approval for two years, Halligan asked that her nomination be withdrawn.
So, on the eve of congressional debate, about the only good news for those determined to fight back is that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is bankrolling a $12 million advertising campaign. It promotes expanded background checks for gun purchases, one of the initiatives proposed by the White House. The 13-state campaign is targeted toward senators Bloomberg believes can be persuaded to back new gun regulations. The billionaire mayor has long been among the fiercest of those willing to take on the firearms lobby.
All this adds up to a post-Easter debate in which the horror brought on by unfettered gun rights will be replayed over and over on the floor of Congress and in the halls of a legislature often too frightened to act. Its only defense for subjecting us to the killing streets and mindless slaughter is that it is a constitutional right.
Meanwhile, the picture of the beautiful little Georgia boy, shown on TV, should be placed on the desk of every lawmaker.
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.