Smith: We Have 'Outrage.' Do We Have Action?

Jun 27, 2013

Police and others say the recent shooting deaths in Baltimore are unacceptable, but the word has lost its meaning. We wring our hands and our leaders fall back on tired old explanations. By now perhaps you have memorized the statistics: 27  shootings that claimed 9 lives over five days beginning last Thursday evening.*

Unacceptable, said one of the city’s ranking police officers. Not so. We have accepted this plague, hoping and praying it does not affect us or our loved ones. In fact, of course, it affects us all.

Somewhat laughably, we say it hurts the city’s image as if it were a public relations problem. We might react with outrage if we weren’t a bit numbed, if we hadn’t been living in the midst of this epidemic for decades. 

The victims are often young people.  “… What distinguishes children in the United States from children in the rest of the developed world is the simple, devastating fact that they die – most by firearms – at far higher rates.” And there is this accompanying fact: “… Where there are more guns, there are more violent deaths – indeed many more.” These observations are offered in a recent book written and edited by Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick of the Bloomberg School of public health.

Gun deaths occur less often in these other countries because rampant shooting sprees have been, in fact, unacceptable. Here’s what one country did to prove that it found this carnage “unacceptable.” In 1996, a disturbed young man with an assault rifle killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Australia. As in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, national grieving and anger was the immediate result. In Australia, however, something called the National Firearms Agreement was the result. Among other things, a massive gun buy-back program was initiated. There has been no similar mass shooting in Australia since the law was passed. 

It happened with the resolve of strong national leaders.  Progressives and conservatives worked together. Hundreds of community, and professional organizations joined with public health and medical societies, civic associations, churches, researchers and labor unions to say “Unacceptable” in a chorus of resolve.

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*The number of dead and wounded victims continues to change. You can find more recent information at The Baltimore Sun's homicide map.