Senator Chris Murphy stands up

I wrote a post in the hours after the mass killing at Pulse in Orlando, predicting that the US Congress would do nothing, even in the face of so many deaths at the hands of a single person with an assault weapon.

I am proud to report that I was wrong.

First, some Democratic members of the House walked out on the symbolic moment of silence in protest against inaction.

On Wednesday, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut took the floor at 11:21 AM and began speaking against the lack of debate and action on gun issues from Congress, intending to hold the floor until there was a promise to bring legislation to the Senate for debate and vote.

Senator Murphy lives near Newtown, Connecticut, site of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He had been a member of the House from an adjoining district and was newly elected as Senator at the time of the shooting. He has been in close contact with the families of the Sandy Hook victims and has long advocated for tighter gun laws and better mental health care.

In order to hold the floor, he was not allowed to leave the chamber or even to sit.  There also needed to be continual talking. To help him, over thirty other Senators, mostly other Democrats but a couple of Republicans also, came to the floor to ask extended questions so that Senator Murphy could rest his voice.

Remarkably, Senator Murphy held the floor for almost fifteen hours, until in the early hours of Thursday, word came that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would schedule votes on four amendments regarding gun purchases next week.

I urge you to watch how Senator Murphy ended his marathon speech. I pray that his words will strike to the hearts of the senators so that they will vote to enact some new protections against gun violence, which is such a plague for us here in the United States.

There is a lot of work to be done. The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of restricting access to military-grade weapons and of ensuring that violent, unstable, or hate-filled people do not get their hands on guns and shoot people.

The President has been advocating on these issues for years.

Congress, listen to Senator Murphy, the President, voters, and especially the families of victims, and act.

Fifth Anniversary of the ACA shootings

Last night, when the news broke about the shooting at Fort Hood, the first thought many people had was “not again.” Not again at Fort ¬†Hood, and not again in general.

The timing was especially poignant for those of us in the Binghamton NY area, because today marks the fifth anniversary of the American Civic Association shootings, in which fourteen people died, including the mentally ill gunman, and four were wounded.

Despite the tragic loss of life, the ACA shooting is usually not present in the list of mass shootings that gets recited in the media when the next horrible shooting comes along. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Fort Hood.

I am not saying that we should not be remembering these other mass shootings. We should, and we should be doing more to avert similar deaths and injuries in the future.

What I do find disturbing is that so many have forgotten about the ACA tragedy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

I am afraid that the primary reason is that the gunman and most of the dead were immigrants. Most of them were gathered in one of the American Civic Association’s classrooms, taking a class to improve their English skills, when they were shot. They were from Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines. Two were in Binghamton as visiting scholars. Others had been resettled in the area as refugees. The ACA is well-known in the area as a gathering place for immigrants to study English or prepare for citizenship tests. Several of those who were shot were employees or volunteers who had embraced this important mission. Somehow, though nearly all of us in the United States are descended from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves, the story of the ACA shootings did not embed itself into our minds as have some of the other tragedies that took place in schools or other public settings. I’m sorry to say that I think people see themselves or their grand/children as being just like those gathered in an elementary school or at a movie theater, but that they don’t see themselves as people from a different country, with a different skin color, speaking with an accent, working toward citizenship.

Five years on, I don’t want these people to have been forgotten. I want them to be remembered – and to be remembered as neighbors, as members of our community, as people like us.