William Rivers Pitt | We Can Be Heroes: Fighting to Win on Gun Reform

Activists hold up signs at the Florida State Capitol as they rally for gun reform legislation on February 26, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida. In the wake of the February 14 school shooting that left 17 people dead, hundreds of people joined the Parkland students to call for gun reform. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)Activists hold up signs at the Florida State Capitol as they rally for gun reform legislation on February 26, 2018, in Tallahassee, Florida. In the wake of the February 14 school shooting that left 17 people dead, hundreds of people joined the Parkland students to call for gun reform. (Photo: Don Juan Moore / Getty Images)

I … I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall

And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day …

David Bowie

Sit by the river long enough and sooner or later you’ll see everything. Now see this:

Hundreds of faithful at a Pennsylvania church on Wednesday carried AR-15-style rifles, in adherence to their belief that a “rod of iron” mentioned in the Bible refers to the type of weapon that was used in last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

The armed ceremony at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, about 20 miles southeast of Scranton, featured gun-toting worshippers, some wearing crowns of bullets as they participated in communion and wedding ceremonies.

Attendants carefully placed a zip tie into the receiver magazine well of each weapon to assure that a clip could not be loaded.

Well, thank packin’ Jesus for the zip ties. Safety first, folks.

Rev. Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, youngest son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, presided over what was officially called the Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing, part of a “Festival of Grace” that included a “President Trump Thank You Dinner.”

Rev. “Sean” Moon’s brother, “Justin” Moon Kook-jin, owns Kahr Arms, a gun manufacturer located just down the road in Greeley. “I actually purchased my weapon there yesterday,” one parishioner told NPR, “because although I have several rifles, I didn’t have an AR-15.” The nearby elementary school was evacuated for the ceremony. A bunch of kids lost a day of learning so some folks could basically marry their assault rifles.

Encompassing all this, I very nearly surrendered on the spot.

You can’t blow this off as just another strange Moon-related adventure, I thought to myself, not while still deep in the shadow of the Parkland massacre. The Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing, starring God’s own zip-tied “rod of iron,” is as American as apple pie … or at least as American as the Westboro Baptist Church. Complete with a blessing for Trump, it is the inevitable endpoint of this nation’s implacable gun obsession.

Can anything overcome the mindless, lethal inertia of this thing, or should we just turn every shooting range into a house of worship (tax-exempt, of course) and have done with it?

I’m wide open to new ideas. Thankfully, so are a lot of folks who are making real change in the realm of gun violence.

In April of 1996, a gunman using an AR-15 killed 35 people in Tasmania, Australia. The horror and sorrow left in the wake of the massacre motivated that nation to make sea changes to its gun laws. Called the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, the new law restricted private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, along with pump- and semi-automatic shotguns. Uniform firearms licensing was likewise introduced. All these measures enjoyed bipartisan support by the Commonwealth, states and territories, and Australia has not endured a single mass shooting since.

Last year, Australian authorities held a July-to-September illegal gun amnesty. When all was said and done, some 57,000 illegal weapons were turned over, including 35,000 rifles and 12,000 shotguns.

In 2011, a self-identified fascist opened fire at a Worker’s Youth League summer camp on Utøya island in Norway, killing 77 people. Most of the victims were children or teenagers, and among the weapons used was a semi-automatic rifle similar to an AR-15.

Today, the Norwegian government is poised to approve sweeping restrictions on the private ownership of such weapons. The new measures would also include updated background checks.

In other words: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Genuine gun reform can happen, because it has happened. Despite all the money and the political pressure and the vitriol and the stalled-out seeming hopelessness of the gun debate in the US, we can also get this done, because we have to. Before you imagine yourself as nothing more than a bug smashed into the gun lobby’s windshield, realize that you are far from alone.

Here in the US, a wide variety of organizations have been working for years to achieve true change. Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK) is a project undertaken by Chicago activist and mother Tamar Manassah after she had seen too many children and young people of color dying before the barrel of a gun. Armed only with fellow local mothers and lawn chairs, Manassah and her group placed themselves visibly on the street corners of a high-violence neighborhood at night. They fed the neighborhood youth and got to know them. They maintained a continual presence on the street.

“Three years — and 15,000 meals, thousands of backpack giveaways, hundreds of pep talks, millions of hugs, a few bee stings, some sunburns and countless new relationships — later, we have not had a shooting on the block,” writes Manassah for Truthout. “Not one. The lesson I learned was in order to save my own children, I had to try to save them all. Even the ones who have guns. They are all still just children, and on any day in poor and forgotten neighborhoods, the shooter can very well be the victim and the victim the shooter.”

Courage To Fight Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center were established by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot along with 18 other people outside a Safeway near Tucson. Among the six who died in the attack were a six-year-old girl and a federal judge. Rep. Giffords formed these organizations in the aftermath as part of a mission to “save lives from gun violence by shifting culture, changing policies, and challenging injustice.” Their ongoing work involves organizing like-minded activists, preparing and disbursing research on gun violence for use by other groups and lobbying lawmakers to pass effective gun reform legislation.

And then there are the Parkland student activists, coming down the mountain like a peal of highly organized thunder. The one-two punch of these youth and their courage, combined with an amazingly effective and still-growing NRA boycott, has the entire pro-gun universe rocked back on its heels. Even Donald Trump was preaching the gospel of gun reform on Wednesday, to the astonishment of his GOP colleagues, until the NRA’s top lobbyist got in his ear and brought him back into the fold.

There are many heroes in this fight. They could use some company. There will always be a Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing to make you question even the fundamental reality of the ground you’re standing on. Thankfully, there will also always be folks to remind you up is that way, water remains wet and there is nothing that can’t be done when the will of good people bends toward the light.