The 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination is, sadly, a searing reminder of unaddressed gun violence in America. Because gun violence has gone unaddressed for half a century, now and future generations of children live in fear of guns when the children are not running scared for their lives. They are not living in the safer and healthier America MLK spoke about so dreamingly.
During last month’s “March for Our Lives” demonstration in Washington, D. C., students were demanding safer gun laws. One of the surprise guest speakers was 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Like the hundreds of thousands of children and teens who came to the nation’s capital with the mission to end school shootings, Yolanda told the audience, “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of the skin, but the content of their character.”
Standing on stage alongside one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors, Yolanda continued sharing her dream with the crowd: “I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
As I watched King’s cherubic-looking granddaughter deliver her speech to a cheering crowd, I nearly cried realizing Yolanda never met her grandfather, because a bullet shortened his life leaving us all wondering how long he might have lived.
King wrote in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” in April 1963, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
In 2018, no one could have fathomed the number-one issue all American school-aged children will face is an epidemic of school shootings — whether in wealthy suburbs like Newtown and Parkland or urban cities like Chicago and Baltimore. Gun violence is killing our children, and gun reform continue to be that hot-bottom issue as a country we can’t seem to budge on.
It was a similar problem 50 years ago.
Just two months after King’s death in April — with a nation still in mourning — New York senator, and then-presidential hopeful, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in June. His brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated five years earlier in November 1963. Immediately following JFK’s assassination, King told his executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Andrew Young, Jr., “Guns are going to be the death of this country.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson thought so, too. Johnson wrote to Congress requesting stronger gun laws in the wake of RFK’s death. “Far too many [guns] were bought by the demented, the deranged, the hardened criminal, and the convict, the addict, and the alcoholic. So today, I call upon the Congress in the name of sanity … and in the name of an aroused nation to give us the Gun Control Law it needs.”
Johnson passed landmark civil rights legislation during his tenure, but he could not make a dent in gun reform.
King would have been proud of the “March for Our Lives” demonstration. It demonstrated the collective power of children and teen activists to shame and to bring recalcitrant Second Amendment advocate lawmakers to their knees as the Children’s Crusade of 1963 did in Birmingham, Alabama. The Children’s Crusade braved arrest, fire hoses, and police dogs to bring to the nation’s attention their state’s unrelenting segregation laws.
I don’t know if MLK could have ever imagined an epidemic of school shootings. No one could. He did, however, speak out about America’s children being reared on a steady diet of violence. He suggested a link between watching violent acts in movies or television shows that resulted in antisocial behavior or acting aggressively in life.
King stated in 1963, “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim; by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing; by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”
King’s assassination shocked the nation. The alleged weapon was the Remington 30-06 hunting rifle — a weapon that was as easily obtained then as the AR-15 is today. The Remington 30-06 hunting rifle was used in the 1930 Valentine’s Day massacre; the AR-15 was used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings.
President Johnson redoubled his efforts to get sensible gun laws in place with each act of gun violence, unlike President Trump, but the NRA was able to quickly mobilize an opposition team in Congress against Johnson to oppose gun reform legislation.
There have been 17school shootings since March of this year. The high volume of school shootings can be pointed to the NRA and its allies employing similar tactics used 50 years ago to obstruct gun safety legislation.
No one, however, could have fathomed the NRA would use those same tactics against the safety of our children, too. But our children have spoken up, and they want sweeping new gun control laws now and not crumbs.
King’s assassination is a glaring reminder of what happens to a future generation when an important issue like gun safety goes unaddressed. In King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech he said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
I’m hoping lawmakers are listening this time.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.
Rev. Irene Monroe is an African American lesbian feminist public theologian, sought-after speaker, and preacher.