Maybe the wounding of a baby boy and the fatal shooting of a 2-year-old girl last weekend will awaken this city from its carnage-numbed slumbers. But don’t count on it.
Oh, there will be sidewalk memorials and other candlelit expressions of the sort that help people grieve, and that also provide the media with poignant images. But teddy bears and prayers are not enough — any more than editorial lamentations, official solemnities, or fervent sermons are enough. The same goes for demonstrations, proclamations, and press conferences.
None of these customary reactions, however heartfelt or well-intentioned, could or should be enough, because we’re talking about 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera taking her final breath after one of the shots fired into her Kensington home from outside pierced her head. We’re talking about an 11-month-old boy’s body punctured by four bullets while he rode in a car in Hunting Park.
We’re talking about the blood of innocents staining the streets of Philadelphia because of the selfish, ruthless nihilism of adult criminals. And we’re talking about shots being fired into crowds; last summer, seven adults were wounded at a West Philly playground, and a man was killed and five other adults were wounded at or near a playground in Southwest Philly.
It seems as if wanton brutality is on the verge of becoming the new normal — if it hasn’t already. And not just in Philadelphia.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than 1,300 children under 18 die from gunfire — including homicide and suicide — in the United States every year. Encouragingly, firearms death rates among children are lower in New Jersey and other states with relatively strict gun laws, and higher in Pennsylvania and other states where restraints are looser or fewer, according to the Giffords Center, which advocates for more regulations.
The National Rifle Association and its fervent supporters in Washington D.C., Harrisburg, and gun industry boardrooms will never surrender their self-interested interpretation of the Second Amendment; it is an article of their secular faith that guns are pure and without sin, while the motives of anyone who dares believe otherwise are suspect.
We believe neither gun confiscation nor mass incarceration are the answer. But radical problems need radical solutions. Philadelphia, where there’s support for the radical idea of reducing the opioid epidemic’s death toll by opening a medically supervised illegal drug injection site, could seek harsher penalties for gun crimes in which the victims are children. Civic leaders and other residents could work more closely with the city and the police to marginalize those whose ‘don’t snitch’ code keeps criminals safe.
Grassroots leadership, especially in neighborhoods where children and adult bystanders have been shot, might be best able to develop ideas and approaches. After all, they’re the people who are living with this. Meanwhile, the Republicans in the Pennsylvania statehouse should stop taking orders from the NRA and pay attention to the tragedies last weekend in Philly.