As the boy, an honor student, a hero, lay bleeding on the floor of the Chicago Transit Authority bus, he told paramedics, “Tell my parents I love them.”
The bus, the school day, the whole world stops, but only for an eye blink: a headline or two. I wish the freeze-frame of collective grief could last a little longer. It can’t, of course. There’s a war to cover, more deaths, presidential posturing, reality TV. But one of these days, one of these deaths, we need to pause long enough for a moratorium on business as usual — long enough, let us say, to figure out what “Blair’s Law” might actually mean.
Blair Holt, age 16, was killed Thursday morning, May 10, on his way to Chicago’s Percy Julian High School. The killer, also a teenager, arrested a few days later, “got on the bus and just started shooting and kept shooting until he got off the bus,” another student said. His intended target, a kid with whom he’d been feuding, was on the bus too, but wasn’t hit. Four students were injured and Blair, who pushed a girl out of the line of fire before catching a bullet, became the 20th Chicago schoolchild to die of gun violence this school year, and the 27th in total to be murdered.
His father, a Chicago policeman, vowed to lobby the Illinois legislature in his son’s name for tougher gun laws: Blair’s Law, he called it, the point of which would be “to try to find some way to make it more difficult for these guns to end up in the hands of the wrong people.”
A prayer, a shrug, a dad’s broken heart. Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice. But we know this will never happen. Can’t be done. OK, folks, move along.
But no, I will not move along. Here, exactly here, at the place where one more survivor looses an anguished soul cry — “This is wrong and it must stop!” — here is where we need to linger. Let us feel the grief of this cry as though for the first time, feel it fuel our incredulity that we can’t seem to fix things: not just that children, that all of us, have such easy access to guns, but that we’re so motivated to turn to them.
From this state of what I might call sacred incredulity, Blair’s Law hovers as the vision, or part of the vision, of a peaceful, just and loving world, even if it’s inscrutable about how we get there.
Perhaps the deeper question to ponder is how someone becomes one of “the wrong people.” The law-abiding citizen may be the mythical everyman extolled by the NRA and its ilk — the more heavily armed the better — but rational people grasp that there’s nothing inherent in the quality of being “law-abiding” and most of us, if not all of us, given the right emotional trigger, could cross that line, and if we cross it armed we could do terrible harm.
This elementary level of awareness, and self-awareness, is missing from the inevitable booming cries from Fortress Gun Nut, in the wake of high-profile tragedies like Virginia Tech, that we could stop the next gun-toting psycho if we all walked around armed to the teeth. A couple weeks ago, for instance, Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the elimination of all restrictions on that state’s concealed-weapon law, so buckaroos could pack heat in church or their local bar or wherever they wanted and, presumably, a college student’s back-to-school supply list could include a 9mm Glock.
Such shilling for the gun industry, which of course wants nothing so much as to expand its market, is unconscionable. What if they get their way and handguns become as ubiquitous as cell phones? Everyone has to have a cell phone now because there are no pay phones left; if Perry’s vision prevails, what would disappear from the public sector is trust — a nightmare that would probably look a lot like present-day Baghdad.
But the matter of crafting Blair’s Law is larger than gun control, which has little likelihood of being any more successful than other forms of prohibition. Taxing, suing and otherwise linking the gun profiteers to the consequences of their products can help keep the industry in check and curb its expansion, but that’s only a small part of what needs to be done.
Violence plays a false, unexamined role in history, myth and popular culture, always showing up disguised as a means to an end. Yeah, what a means: godlike, promising instantaneous change. In fact, violence supercedes every end. Why don’t we know this yet?
Or rather, how does it come to be that knowing it — the way the parent of a dead teenager suddenly knows it — affects so little, changes so little? The myth springs eternal. Aggrieved and fearful souls nurture the thought of violence as the all-at-once solution to their problems, never imagining the immense chain of consequences their actions will produce. With the same wormhole focus, small minds lead us into war.
Blair’s Law only has a chance to work if it addresses the context of violence and promotes — as the bill to create a U.S. Department of Peace strives to promote — a world that has outgrown it.
- - -
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column ator visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.