In the wake of the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that left 12 people dead, dozens of gun-control activists, many from the Newtown Action Alliance, convened on Capitol Hill Wednesday to try to revive a bill that would expand federal background checks of gun buyers. Speakers included Shundra Robinson, whose 18-year-old son Deno Wooldridge was shot dead on his grandmother’s front porch in Chicago nearly three years ago. "We’ve got to go home to empty rooms because our children’s lives were taken away by people who should not have had guns anyways," Robinson testified. "It’s beyond an epidemic. This is genocide in America." Robinson joins us from Chicago where she serves as an anti-violence activist and an evangelist with Radical End Time Ministries International.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the wake of the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that left 12 people dead, dozens of gun-control activists, many from the Newtown Action Alliance, convened on Capitol Hill Wednesday to try to revive a bill that would expand federal background checks of gun buyers. Family members of shooting victims held signs of their murdered loved ones during an event reiterating their commitment to press for gun control. One of the most powerful speeches came from Shundra Robinson, whose 18-year-old son Deno Wooldridge, was shot dead on his grandmother’s front porch in Chicago nearly three years ago.
SHUNDRA ROBINSON: Good afternoon. I would, first of all, like to say thank you to all of you all that have come out to help us, to cry out to our Congress, to our Senate, to our president, vice president, even to the wives of our politicians, "You are mothers. We would hate for you all to have to stand in our shoes and feel what we feel." It doesn’t matter what color you are. It doesn’t matter what class you’re in, whether you’re upper or lower. It doesn’t matter your environment, and Newtown is here to prove that. What happened in Washington should prove that. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a urban community. Crime is crime. And something needs to be done about it.
My son, Deno, was 18 years old, standing on his grandmother’s porch at 5:00 in the evening. He did not deserve to be shot down like an animal. He had potential to be just like we are today, but that was taken away from him. And everybody want to talk about the Second Amendment right. What about our children? They have a right to live.
And we stand here today—we stand here today as mothers and fathers up here. And I remember—Cleo said it so profoundly—that it’s a constant ache in your heart that we can never get rid of. No Tylenol, no morphine, no Propofol will ever take this pain away. You guys can leave here and go on with your lives, but we got to go home to empty rooms, because our children’s lives were taken away by people who should not have had guns anyway. Most of our children’s lives were lost by people under 21. This universal background check is a start. We need healing, you guys. And it’s a global thing. It’s beyond an epidemic. This is genocide in America.
AMY GOODMAN: Shundra Robinson, speaking in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. She lost her 18-year-old son Deno, shot dead on his grandmother’s porch on October 18, 2010, in Chicago.
Shundra Robinson joins us from Chicago, where she serves as an anti-violence activist and evangelist with Radical End Time Ministries International. Still with us, Tom Diaz, author of The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It.
Shundra Robinson, what will it take to stop it? What did you tell congressmembers? Who did you meet with yesterday in Washington, D.C.?
SHUNDRA ROBINSON: Well, unfortunately, we only had an opportunity to meet with two—two actual legislators. We basically got handed off to their assistants, which was quite offensive to myself and the other parents. We met with, I think, Representative Tom Latham and the representative actually from Illinois, but basically all the rest of them, basically, handed us off to their assistants. While we feel that—some of them, they didn’t even take notes, so what will they really tell them, you know, when they give the reports of what we spoke on? And we even had one person to say—one assistant to say to us, "Although your stories are compelling and, you know, really heartbreaking," you know, it was basically, like, his hands in the air, like what can we really do?
And that was quite offensive to the parents, because our stories are not meant to be compelling. We’re not here for people to feel sorry for us. We’re here to cry out for help, for people to not wait until you’re in our shoes, to get out here and help us collectively to make a difference, to constantly be an irritation to Congress, to these representatives, until something gets done. I mean, basically, the bill that’s in is there. It just needs to be signed. All we’re asking for is universal backgrounds to be put in place. This is a start. lthough we know that this is not going to immediately turn things around, we’re just asking for a start.
We know, when you go to the doctor, you go to the doctor because you have a problem, right? You have to first admit that you have a problem. Once you admit that you have a problem, that’s when healing can take place. America, we’re sick. We’re ill. We have a problem. America has addressed, Congress has addressed, that there is a problem. Well, when are we going to start the healing process? When are we going to start coming forth with the remedies to solve this problem? Well, there is one in place that’s just a signature away from being enforced. Yet, when we cried out to them, all they could tell us is that "We understand. Oh, my god, I feel so sorry for you guys. I hate that this happened. And we’re doing the best that we can."
OK, but the day that we were coming there, what happened in Washington? It happened on a naval base. Wasn’t in an urban community. It was somebody that should not have had access to a gun. And I just feel like it’s not based off of how we feel. Everybody is talking about, "We don’t want to hurt this person’s feelings. We don’t want to hurt the mentally ill’s feelings and stop them from having guns. We don’t want to hurt"—it’s not about how we feel. It’s about the reality that we are losing a future. We are losing our generation, the next generation. What will we have in place? How will we—like I said before, we’re the doctors, the nurses, what I am today, lawyers, pediatricians. What are we going to do? Our youth are hopeless.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Shundra Robinson, all the polls show there’s overwhelming support among the American people for universal background checks, but yet the representatives in Washington seem to be in their own bubble. I wanted to ask you, your sense of the disconnect between the political leaders that you met with and the sentiment among most Americans?
SHUNDRA ROBINSON: I think it’s a disconnect because they don’t understand. Sometimes until it hits your household personally, sometimes it takes that to make you understand. And I believe they’re disconnected because that’s not their reality. They don’t have to live in this. When you’re living in the trenches of this and it’s hitting you personally—and, for me, it—before it hit my household personally, I was out there trying to help to stop the violence, trying to get out there to our young people, trying to go to those urban places, trying to reach out to our young people, because it’s not fair to put a stigma on these children. It’s not fair to base crime on your race and your class and all of that. And I just feel that Congress is disconnected because they can’t relate, and they need to start relating before it hit them, because it got real close. It came real close the other day.
AMY GOODMAN: Shundra Robinson, you’re a school nurse in the Chicago schools.
SHUNDRA ROBINSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You go to Washington with others from Chicago, brought in by a local congressmember, and then you’re hooked up with the Newtown survivors, those who lost loved ones, the children, the six-year-olds, in Connecticut. What was that like, as you broadened this coalition?
SHUNDRA ROBINSON: Oh, my god, it was overwhelming. It was so awesome. I just instantly fell in love with all of those guys. We are now going to be forever connected. And I’m so excited that they thought enough of us to include us in their plight against this. And they’re now considered our new BFFs—that’s what we laughed and said. You know, the young people always talk about BFFs. This is what BFFs are, you know, fighting forever, until we take our last breath, to see a change. We’re not going to stop until a change is made, even if I’m not here to see it, just like Dr. King. He’s not here to see, you know, a lot of things that he dreamed about. You know, it’s almost like an insult to him. It’s almost like—you know, we got to do something. We have to do something. This is bigger than a black-on-black, black-white. It’s bigger. We have to come together collectively.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Diaz, this issue of the universal background check, what exactly is stopping it, and what exactly does it mean?
TOM DIAZ: Well, the universal background check means, essentially, that everyone who takes possession of a gun, buys it or is given it, would have to go through a federal background check, which means the records would be checked—and this is done instantaneously—to see if they fall into the class of people who, by law, are not permitted to buy or possess firearms. So, the universal background check is expanding the check. Now, roughly, we think, about 60 percent of firearms transactions are subject to the check, and about 40 percent are not. And then, of the 60 percent that are, there are lots of gaps and loops, as we’ve seen in a number of cases, including the Aaron Alexis case.
What is stopping it is—I find this very interesting. People who want change tend to say they blame the NRA Democrats or the right wing in the Congress, and they very rarely focus on the people who presumptively are on their side, and those are people who—you know, you can take your pick. They all describe themselves differently—progressives, liberals, middle-of-the-road Democrats, center-left Democrats. The question is, to me: What are they doing? And the truth of the matter is that it’s a mutual re-election society. They are not doing anything about guns in Congress, because they have persuaded themselves, when they have their message meetings every day and when they have their policy meetings and their caucus meetings, that guns is what they call the third rail of politics, and they won’t get re-elected. That is what is the ultimately cynical, distressing—I personally know a staff member who almost cried at one of these meetings, because he knew that these parents of survivors were getting run through this spin-dry cycle on the Congress, but nothing was going to happen.
I think that Ms. Robinson, God bless her, is the future of America—people who are getting organized and saying, "Enough." And they have to ask not just the people in the NRA and the right wing. They have a very clear view of what they’re going to do. The people on the left, their view is: What’s the latest micro-poll in my district? And that’s why the national polling might be favorable, but in some member’s little district or some Senate leader’s state, they know that, oh, that vote will be bad.
I want to give you one example that has nothing to do with guns, but it struck me when it happened, and it dominated the news. And that’s Senator Wendy Davis in Texas—stood up for hours and stopped the business of the Texas Senate. And I asked myself, "Where is a United States senator in Washington who will do that in the United States Senate, to stop business until we get, at a very minimum, a good background check?" And the answer is, there is not one single senator in Washington who will do that. The leadership of the Senate threatened this so-called nuclear option, where they’re going to reduce the vote to a simple majority to stop filibusters for nominations. There was a nomination to the Labor Department and a few other commissions, and Senator Harry Reid, who’s the Senate Majority Leader, was threatening the nuclear option.
Thirty thousand Americans die every year from gun death and injury. We are now seeing the upward trend in mass shootings. And we can’t use the nuclear option to get this one single bill to the floor? That’s what we need to focus on. This is paralysis here. So the answer is organization out in the states—forget Washington. Washington is never going to do anything, as I said, until they start feeling the heat from out in the country. That’s why I think it’s so important that these groups get organized.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re certainly going to continue this conversation, but we have to end this one here. I want thank you, Tom Diaz, former member of the NRA, gun enthusiast, author now of a number of books, his latest, The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It. And I want to thank Shundra Robinson for joining us. Her son, Deno, 18 years old, killed three years ago in Chicago on his grandmother’s porch at 5:00 in the afternoon. We’ll certainly continue to follow your work in Chicago and Washington and wherever you go.
And we’re going to end this segment with Cathleen Alexis, the mother of the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, who apologized publicly to the families of the victims in an audio statement she made on Wednesday. She was speaking from her home in Brooklyn, New York. She added, she doesn’t know why her son committed the act.
CATHLEEN ALEXIS: Our son, Aaron Alexis, has murdered 12 people and wounded several others. His actions have had a profound and everlasting effect on the families of the victims. I don’t know why he did what he did, and I’ll never be able to ask him why. Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone, and for that, I am glad. To the families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Cathleen Alexis, the mother of the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, apologizing publicly. She lives in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, and she is a nurse. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, it’s the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Stay with us.