EDITORIAL: The lesson of ’31 bullets’: We have the power to civilize our gun laws

SHARE EDITORIAL: The lesson of ’31 bullets’: We have the power to civilize our gun laws

Students from Francis W. Parker walked out of school April 20, along with hundreds of other students from around Chicago, to protest gun violence in a rally at Grant Park. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

We are shouting from the outside.

Shout loud and long enough, though, and we can prevail. We can civilize our gun laws.

One month ago, this editorial page launched a campaign called “31 bullets” to promote 31 ways to curb gun violence in our nation, and with each proposed action we did our best to include a simple way that you, personally, could make it happen.

We presented our 31st and last bullet — a call for federal design safety standards for American-made guns — on Tuesday.


We have called the campaign, which we are conducting in partnership with the communications firm of Ogilvy & Mather, “31 bullets” because that is the average number of bullets manufactured in this country each year for every man, woman and child. But we easily could have listed 41 ways to make our nation safer from guns, or 51 or 61.

Graphic design by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago

Graphic design by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago

As part of the campaign, we urged you to sign this or that petition, or to make a donation to this or that group. In several cases, we called your attention to very specific proposed legislation that you could devote your entire attention to, increasing the power of your advocacy. We even urged you to give blood, which won’t do a thing to end the gun violence but could save the lives of gun victims.

But time and again, the best advice we could offer you was to hound your elected leaders. Write to them, call them up and really give it to them. We know that’s hardly a novel idea, but when it comes to curbing gun violence, Congress and state legislatures are where the action is. The rest of us, as we say, are shouting from the outside.

This, though, by no means should leave us feeling powerless and bereft. On the contrary, when we consider how other great American reform movements have prevailed, we are energized and hopeful. From the eight-hour day to gay rights, ordinary Americans have had to organize and fight for every decent thing that’s come their way.

We launched “31 bullets” this spring specifically because high school students across the country were walking out of class to protest gun violence and we wanted to encourage their civil disobedience. We had talked to kids who wanted to join the walkouts but had reservations. They were fed up and angry, they told us, but they didn’t really know what their classmates wanted. What exactly — what policies and reforms — should they be demanding?

With “31 bullets” we have tried to arm young people, and all our readers, with hard facts and a practical agenda. And we have done so, we want to stress, firmly within the strictures of the Second Amendment, always seeking common ground in the moderate middle.

There is no threat to the rights of a gun owners, that is to say, in calling for the inclusion of a trigger lock whenever a gun is sold, as we do in Bullet 2. It is not an assault on the Second Amendment to call for an age restriction of 21 for anybody who wants to buy a military-style weapon of mass death, such as an AR-15 rifle, as we do in Bullet 21.


• Illegal guns are a handshake away. • City gun violence falls for 15th consecutive month: police • 2 killed, 6 wounded Thursday in city gun violence, including 7-year-old boy • Putting squeeze on gun-makers could help curb Chicago’s gun violence

• One way to crack down on shops that sell guns used in crimes

We believe in the power of collective action to create a better society. There would no point in writing editorials about anything at all if we did not. We believe, that is to say, that the kids have got it right — walk out, demonstrate and stay angry. Remain the conscience of a nation. Collective action can change hearts and votes.

American history is replete with examples of social reforms, often entirely non-violent, that we might never have imagined possible.

Americans of a certain age remember when drunken driving was viewed almost jokingly. Then Mothers Against Drunk Driving got organized, and brought outrage, money and votes to their cause. Laws were changed. So were attitudes. Getting behind the wheel after a few drinks is no longer remotely socially acceptable.

Americans of about the same age also remember when gay people cowered in the closet or paid the price, even in supposedly sophisticated big cities. Then, on June 28, 1969, the cops in New York City rousted the patrons of the Stonewall Inn once too often — and the patrons fought back. Days of demonstrations followed. Equality under the law for gay people, once an unthinkable possibility for much of middle America, began to come into its own.

Stoneman Douglas High School is our new Stonewall Inn. When 17 people were killed there, on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, the national movement for saner gun laws gained an unprecedented energy, and pro-gun absolutists never sounded more heartless.

We firmly believe saner gun laws are in the offing, if only we choose to make it happen.

There’s an election coming up. And we urge you to vote down every member of Congress and every state legislator who has opposed even modest gun law reforms.

Our job in the coming months will be to single out the worst offenders for you.

Your job will be to vote them out.

Let’s call that Bullet 32.

For more about our 31 bullets campaign, please go to 31bullets.suntimes.com.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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