The Waffle House Shooting –The Bigger Problem You Aren’t Reading About
By Victoria Coy, End Gun Violence Campaigns Manager, Amnesty International USA
Yet another mass shooting has grabbed the headlines this week. Last Sunday an individual armed with a weapon of war stormed into an otherwise normal American scene: the classic diner, where folks were eating, laughing, and living. Wearing only a green jacket, this shooter ended four lives before being physically overwhelmed by an unarmed hero. Shootings like this are not uncommon.
In fact, in many parts of the nation, we see mass shootings every weekend. In my hometown of New Orleans, 10 people were shot Sunday, including a police officer. What is uncommon about the Waffle House shooting, however, is the reaction to it. Because of the Parkland activism and because of the many years of activism in black and brown communities, each shooting feels like yet another straw added to a camel’s back.
Here at Amnesty International USA we are looking at the overwhelming frequency of gun violence as a human rights crisis. The government has signed and ratified human rights treaties which they are now violating. US leaders have stood before the world and pledged to protect our lives, our right to an education, to worship, to eat at Waffle House without fear that it may be our last meal. And they have failed us.
Every time a member of Congress bows to the will of the gun lobby over the will of an American populace that has both hired and paid them, they fail us. And that is exactly what happened in the case of the Waffle House shooter. Several laws failed in this case. In Illinois, the home state of yesterday’s shooter, all gun owners must have either a conceal carry permit or a license (known as a firearm owners identification, or FOID card). If either are revoked, they are not allowed to purchase or possess a gun. After he displayed unstable behavior and violated laws at the White House, the Waffle House shooter’s FOID card was rightfully revoked in Illinois and he was prohibited to possessing a firearm there.
Sadly, however, the Illinois law has a weak relinquishment mechanism which allowed the weapons to be transferred to the shooter’s father on the promise that he would keep them safe. His promise failed. This is the bigger problem. Gun sense advocates have to make dangerous concessions to gun lobby politicians in the passage of any common sense law, despite overwhelming evidence that Americans are demanding these protections.
So when we carefully write policies to ensure that folks with patterns of dangerous behavior are no longer permitted to possess deadly weapons, we are coerced into watering down our proposed laws to do things like allow the weapons to be transferred to family members- sometimes family members in the same house! I’ve seen smart, safe, life-saving laws get so perverted by the gun lobby that by the time they’re passed they end up with ridiculous provisions that allow, for example, a deadly weapon to be moved from the bedroom of someone in a time of violent crisis to any other room in the house. That is not the spirit of the law. And, as we have seen this week, it is not safe.
So when the next mass shooting happens — whether it be at a school, a diner, or on America’s city streets — we must be clear about what is at stake. The patchwork of laws in our country are the result of the incredible systematic failure of the federal government. States are left to fend for themselves and gun sense advocates working in state houses are underfunded and overwhelmed. When the federal government abdicates its responsibility to protect our most fundamental human rights, it does so in knowing violation of human rights treaties. Amnesty International has long defended human rights in times of extreme crisis around the globe. And now we have come home to highlight one of America’s most egregious failings. We all deserve better.