Magazine article The New Yorker

Random Shots

Magazine article The New Yorker

Random Shots

Article excerpt

RANDOM SHOTS

On June 14th, Reggina Jefferies, a seventeen-year-old high-school student, attended a vigil in downtown Oakland for two friends who had drowned in a reservoir. As she stood with mourners outside the service, gunfire broke out among a group of men who had been arguing nearby. Four people were wounded; Jefferies was shot dead. The next day, Luis Villot, a twenty-nine-year-old father of four, attempted to defuse a neighborhood dispute at the Farragut Houses, in Brooklyn, and usher some children out of harm's way. When a woman he was trying to calm fired a gun, a bullet struck him in the forehead, and he died three days later. The same day that Villot was shot, Antonio Perkins, a twenty-eight-year-old Chicagoan, was broadcasting a Facebook Live feed of himself talking with people on the street. A car could be seen passing by and returning a few minutes later. Then the screen went black, but the feed captured the sound of gunfire and people screaming. Perkins was shot in the neck and the head, and was pronounced dead that evening.

Last Wednesday, in the same week that Jefferies, Villot, and Perkins were laid to rest, some fifteen Democratic members of the House of Representatives, led by John Lewis, of Georgia, began a sit-in to demand that Congress enact gun-control legislation. (The sit-in lasted nearly twenty-six hours and, eventually, involved a hundred and sixty-eight members.) Barbara Lee, who represents the part of Oakland where Reggina Jefferies was shot, held up a picture of the young woman and said that she had photographs of many more victims of gun violence in her district.

By engaging in a sit-in, a form of protest pioneered during the civil-rights movement, and by having Lewis lead the effort, the Democrats were implying that congressional inaction on gun legislation was, like the federal foot-dragging on segregation fifty years ago, shameful. The sit-in also implied that the people responsible for this state of affairs are as unambiguously wrong as those whom Lewis faced down on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, in 1965. Reaction to the sit-in broke along partisan lines. Democratic Senators Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, who had staged a fifteen-hour filibuster to demand action on gun control; Cory Booker, of New Jersey; and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, walked over to the House chamber to offer their support. (Despite Murphy's efforts, last Monday the Senate blocked several gun measures.) Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, denounced the sit-in as "a publicity stunt." It was more substantial than a stunt, though publicity and, more specifically, public pressure were precisely the point of it.

But, from a civil-rights perspective, there were also reasons to be cautious about the proceedings. The Democrats sought to use the example of the shooting of forty-nine people in the Pulse night club, in Orlando, to spur the House to take up legislation that would strengthen background checks and help prevent individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms. The argument was that a person deemed too dangerous to fly should be thought of as too dangerous to buy a gun. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, announced its opposition to that measure, stating that the list is "error-prone and unreliable, because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names. …

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