Surely even the most recalcitrant and reactionary of persons on the issue of gun violence had to be impressed by the energy and commitment of the young Americans involved in last weekend's March for Our Lives. Hard as it might have been to imagine it in advance, the entire extravaganza — in Washington as well as in most of the several score other American cities with mini-marches — was planned, staffed, and executed by persons aged 18 or under. (The only exceptions were some of the entertainers who took part, who tended to be oldsters in their 20s.)
Yet it may also have been true, as the 68-year-old 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen said in a luncheon address to the Rotary Club of Memphis at Clayborn Temple on Tuesday, that the majority of the throngs gathered to watch were "kids my age or older."
We can only hope that the middle-aged and elderly among us are indeed not too jaded to have understood the message of those representatives of the younger generation who had personally endured the terror and risk of over-lenient gun trafficking, as those kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, surely had.
And that clear and obvious message was quite simply: Do something! Unfortunately, the power and reach of the NRA and other parts of the gun lobby are such that, as a pained Cohen had to inform Rotarians, the governing Republican majority in Congress has no appetite to do anything at all.
It would be comforting to believe otherwise, yet this reluctance to act on an obvious problem was also reflected as recently as Monday night, two days after the march, at a forum of county mayor candidates right here in Memphis. Three Republican candidates — County Commissioner Terry Roland, Trustee David Lenoir, and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos — participated in the forum at Rhodes College and, for the most part, they acquitted themselves remarkably well.
It was only on one subject — that of gun violence — that they drew a blank. Lenoir's solution to the specter of gun violence was to recap his major campaign themes — "good jobs, great schools, and safer neighborhoods" — along with an exhortation to "prosecute criminals to the full extent of the law." Touliatos, who cited her penchant for taking crackers out to the hungry among her Juvenile Court charges, advocated showing children "that somebody cares for them."
Only Roland, emphasizing his membership on the board of a mental-health agency (who knew?) came within a country mile of any solution that is part of the current national dialogue, and he undermined his call for more attention to the mentally ill with the over-flip remark, "When you show me a gun that goes off and kills somebody by itself, then I'll support gun laws."
All in all, that part of the Republicans' mayoral debate was exactly the sort of thing that Emma Gonzáles meant when, in the aftermath of the gun-murder of 14 of her classmates and 3 faculty members, she made a speech dismissing any and all evasive pseudo-solutions to the tragedy with the words, "We call B.S.!"
So do we, and we can only hope that something more substantive emerges from exchanges between mayoral candidates in the forthcoming county general election, after the primaries.