Abdication of Leadership

When U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head, I thought America would finally realize we have a gun problem. Then, 20 schoolchildren were massacred by a lunatic armed with his family’s arsenal of weapons, and I thought that would push our leaders to act.

So why would I think that the shooting of a 7-year-old Dequante Hobbs Jr. — while he was eating cake and playing on his iPad — would push our politicians to act?

Then again, President Reagan was shot, and it took Congress 12 years to move only slightly in 1993 to control gun ownership, to require background checks. A 10-year ban on new assault weapons narrowly passed in 1994, but that’s long since expired.

And this generation of leaders will continue to do nothing about the gun violence in America. While it is caused primarily by the Republican party standing lockstep with the NRA, our Democratic officials are hardly offering leadership.

So where are our leaders?

Where are the real efforts to prevent the next 7-year-old child from being shot in the neck while sitting in his kitchen?

One thing is certain: We cannot pray our way out of this problem. Even religious leaders will tell you that… if you are listening, Gov. Bevin.

True to form, Bevin’s plan to curb the violence in West Louisville is beyond an embarrassment. It is a disgrace and an insult to a great many people — none more so than to the parents of children killed by guns.

That said, I don’t hate his idea entirely. I think it’s good to get as many people as possible engaged in a street-level effort — spiritual or otherwise. But telling people to walk around blocks and pray is not a plan, it is an idea. At best, this is one component of what should be a fully-resourced effort to attack the problem on several fronts.

The cynical side of me wants to say he was just going for a photo op — something he can tweet out to his followers. Yet I would like to think he genuinely cares, but perhaps is too lazy, or out of touch, to give this crisis the attention it deserves… in which case he’s startlingly incompetent.

I can’t decide which would be worse.

The real crime in Bevin’s empty pronouncement is that it is another example of an elected official misleading us into believing that he or she is working to solve the problem — like Trump’s secret healthcare plan, or his alleged plan to fight ISIS.

But the impotent response to the gun violence emergency is not just a Bevin problem — it’s a leadership problem extending to Mayor Greg Fischer, police Chief Steve Conrad, the Metro Council and all of our civic leaders. It’s not a lack of caring, but a lack of urgency, commitment and creativity to search for solutions.

I support the Democrats’ proposal to allow Louisville to regulate gun and ammunition sales in the city. Kentucky cities cannot do that now, without legislative approval.

But our city’s Democratic leaders did not stand up for the proposal made by state Rep. Darryl T. Owens of Louisville in the last session. In March 2016, Fischer said he would not push for local gun laws. “We’re not going to just chase after windmills over things that aren’t going to happen,” he said.

It’s a shame that Bevin, who professes to care deeply about the problem, and his Republican troop in Frankfort won’t allow the city to help itself. Small government and whatnot…

However distasteful, the theater of politics matters. How will Frankfort know it’s important to us if we don’t show it?

And what are Conrad and city council members doing?

It’s an abdication of their responsibilities to let this continue. Yes, halfway through 2017 we are on a path to surpass last year’s record homicide tally.

I don’t know what the solutions are. I do know what’s going on isn’t working.

Where is the creative thinking? Where is the unexpected move that disrupts the status quo? We are not the first city to face this problem. What did other cities do to remedy the violence?

Bevin’s so-called plan is an easy target for ridicule. It’s an offensive display of religious hubris to go to The West End and preach to the community about praying and taking ownership of their neighborhood.

But our other leaders — Fischer, Conrad and council members — also must rethink their approach to this crisis… and be honest about their commitment to stopping it.

They owe it to Dequante Hobbs Jr., his mother and the next child who will die because of the guns.