I first got involved in gun violence prevention (GVP) back in 1965, because the gun violence which concerned me was the gun violence that was going on in Viet Nam. Now you might think there’s no connection between shootings in a neighborhood somewhere in the United States and the killing of soldiers (and civilians) on the battlefield, but that’s not really true. Rifles and handguns were first developed for use in warfare, so it’s entirely consistent if you’re against gun violence, to be against gun violence no matter where it occurs.
One of my real heroes in the anti-War movement was Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who was a major voice in radical and pacifist politics before, during and after the Viet Nam War. So I was struck the other day by the news that another pacifist activist, John Dear, who also started out as a Jesuit, appeared last year at an event called Peace Week Delaware, which will be repeated this year on September 17 – 24.
The point of Peace Week Delaware is to promote the idea of creating sanctuary cities and other locations that will be zones of non-violence and will develop and support ongoing programs to make people and neighborhoods more peaceful and safe. And what could be more important in creating such non-violent spaces than to develop awareness about gun violence and support activities that might help bring gun violence to an end?
And believe me when I tell you that Delaware, particularly the city of Wilmington which is the home base of Peace Week, could certainly use from help when it comes to reducing violence caused by guns. There is no state in America which had as high an increase in homicide rates between 1999 and 2012 as Delaware with the rate per 100,000 jumping from 3 to 7, a time when the national homicide rate declined by half. And most of the shooting (fatal and non-fatal) occurred in Wilmington, which had a per-100K gun incident rate of 181, which is 6 times higher than the national per-100K rate for intentional injuries caused by guns.
When it comes to recent gun violence, don’t think things have gotten terribly better in Delaware, particularly Wilmington. There were 154 shooting victims in 2013, of whom 18 died. The following year the number of shooting victims ‘dropped’ to 124 but homicides went up to 23 – the shooters became better shots. In 2015 the carnage went back up to 151 with 26 ending up in the morgue, the 2016 numbers were roughly the same. This year shootings are 40% higher than in any previous year to this date. In other words, if this continues, sooner or later the gun violence rate will start to drop in Wilmington, because there won’t be anyone around to get shot.
I wish I had room to list all the community-based organizations which supported the first Peace Week Delaware last year. Suffice it to say that the displays, activities, marches and events drew on the energies and interest of a wide cross-section of government, civic, faith-based and community groups, obviously embracing the GVP organizations as well. There were more than 40 events in 2016 and this year there are already more than 30 events being planned.
But let’s forget numbers for a minute and get back to the central issue, which is the connection between GVP and peace. During the Viet Nam, something known as ‘peace studies’ emerged on college campuses, and students studied peace as a subject matter the same way they studied sociology or chem. Is it that difficult to imagine that a college or university wouldn’t enhance its curricular offerings with a course on violence and guns?
The good news about Wilmington is that it’s less than a two-hour drive from New York and Washington, D.C. I’m going to do my darndest to get there for Peace Week 2017 and I strongly urge you to do the same. And if you want to donate something to help support a worthy cause, just click right here.