MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Playgrounds Not Burial Grounds
In a former life, I worked at a physical medicine and rehabilitation hospital in Chicago, Schwab, as executive vice president. In that capacity, among other responsibilities was my overseeing public affairs, government affairs and advocacy. Professionals who specialize in rehabilitation care are most often optimistic, caring people who take great pleasure in the small progress patients make after strokes, head trauma, and spinal injuries.
Even when so many children and teenagers came through the hospital with devastating injuries for care after being shot, the rehab staff looked at the possibilities for regaining and adapting to a new physical condition. Life wasn't going to stop for a disability.
But for me, a non-medical professional, seeing the young people in wheelchairs, the teens with head wounds, the former athletes on crutches would hit me in the gut. It was the inexplicable malicious underside of the American dream; its flip side was the American nightmare.
Because of a gutsy CEO who was a former rehabilitation nurse, Schwab became a leader in the late '80s and early '90s on behalf of reducing gun violence. The hospital was involved in everything from doing two events with President Bill Clinton to getting hospitals to adopt gun control as part of their mission. Elected officials and community leaders regularly held news conferences at the hospital – and even a couple in the Cook County morgue.
But each time, after the media left, the kids with bullet wounds still kept on arriving for treatment. These are the young ones that you don't hear much about: mostly minorities who survive bullets going through their bodies – many of them who will never walk again. Those who are wounded with firearms far outnumber those who die.
One of the annual media events we developed was "Playgrounds, Not Burial Grounds." It was held each year on a summer weekend in a playground in a park across the street from Schwab.
The other day, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, I leafed through boxes of gun violence reduction advocacy work from years past. Here is an excerpt from one young man who participated in one of the "Playgrounds, Not Burial Grounds" news conferences. His name was Kenny:
The first time I was shot I was 15 years old. I was playing softball in the Gregory School play lot with some friends and relatives. A car drove by and someone in the car started shooting. I was hit in the fingers and arm. My uncle was killed. I hadn't known anyone who had been shot.
I was shot the second time when our car was attacked, which occurred two days after my 17th birthday. I was hit in the left arm and spine….
Every year we had young people who would appeal to adults to let them live in communities without violence, who would ask why this nation is awash in guns, who would question why companies are allowed to make a profit off of personal killing machines, who were bewildered at suddenly not being able to walk.
They were fair questions then. They are fair questions now.
We need a Second Amendment to protect our children – and our citizens – from a toxic gun pathology. Otherwise, the dead and the injured will keep climbing, already having long ago passed the mortality and injury count caused by foreign terrorists in the US.
Who has been the greater precipitate cause of fatalities in the US: Al-qaeda or the amen choir of the NRA and its cult gun culture followers?
The true threat to the children of our Republic is homegrown. It is woven like a blood stain into our national fabric.