The 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination is sadly a searing reminder of unaddressed gun violence in America. Gun violence has gone unaddressed for half a century. Future generations of children residing in a “safer and healthier America” that MLK spoke about so dreamingly in his speeches now live in fear of guns.
During the “March for Our Lives” student-led demonstration that took place in Washington, D. C. last month, one of the surprise guest speakers was nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King. She is the granddaughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Like the hundreds of thousands of children and teens she came to the nation’s capital with the mission to end school shootings. Yolanda Renee King 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 was 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. I realized 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-age children 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 continues 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, 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 on gun reform.
King would have been proud of The “March for Our Lives” demonstration. It demonstrated the collective power of children and teen activists. They brought shame, and 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 possible link between watching violent acts in movies or television shows resulting in antisocial behavior or acting aggressively in life.
“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 stated in 1963.
Little has changed in 50 years
King’s assassination shocked the nation. The alleged weapon was the Remington 30-06 hunting rifle. It is a weapon easily obtained then like the AR-15 is today. That weapon was used in the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
President Johnson redoubled his efforts to get sensible gun laws in place with each act of gun violence. So unlike President Trump. But the NRA was able to quickly mobilize an opposition team in Congress against then President Johnson to oppose gun reform legislation — even then.
There have been seventeen school 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.
Author Rev. Irene Monroe may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org