A teacher in New York says she’s launched a hunger strike to push for gun control but I’ve gotta say, this seems more like a diet than anything else, at least for now.

For this month, the Westchester woman is eating one meal a day. If nothing changes regarding gun legislation, the Bronx teacher plans to have more a traditional hunger strike in October, consuming only juice and broth, and in November reduce to just water, salt, sugar and vitamins.

One meal a day isn’t really a hunger strike, is it? Now, come November if Stephenson’s still committed, I’ll consider that the real deal. And if she’s committed, she’s almost certain to still be striking come November, based on her list of demands:

  • Ban assault rifles
  • Require universal comprehensive background checks
  • Mandate a purchase license
  • Institute a federal (10 day) waiting period
  • Permit the CDC to research gun violence
  • Repeal laws that protect gun manufacturers (& dealers) from liability lawsuits

The earliest we’d see Senate passage of most of these ideas would be January of 2021, and that’s only if Democrats take back the Senate. If they do that, they’ll almost certainly win the White House as well, and Stephenson could probably gorge herself on avocado toast or whatever on Inauguration Day. Can she make it to 2021 on a (soon-to-be) diet of water, salt, sugar, and vitamins?

Why exactly is Stephenson doing this? Obviously she’s hoping to draw attention to herself and her cause, but why decide to “skip a meal for gun control”? As she puts it,

The Hastings-on-Hudson woman says she’s been hungry for change since the beginning of September, and isn’t stopping until she sees it.

“Every time I feel hungry, I am thinking about all of these victims, all of these people whose choices got taken away from them,” she says.

I know I’ve been pretty snarky up to this point, but I do commend Stephenson for thinking about the victims of violent crime. I think that what she’s demanding won’t help, and how she’s going about it is silly, but I think her heart’s in the right place. So Shai Stephenson, here’s an open letter in response to your hunger strike for gun control, and why I think you should have a cheeseburger.

 

As a teacher, I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “show your work”. I think you need to show your work it comes to the gun control policies you’re demanding. You say that mass shootings can stop if we ban semi-automatic rifles, have universal background checks, require a license to own a firearm, mandate a 10-day waiting period, let the CDC produce studies on gun control, and allow manufacturers to be sued for the third-party actions of criminals. It sounds to me like what you’re saying is if we sue gun companies out of existence, and make it incredibly difficult to legally own a gun, we can stop mass shootings by gutting the 2nd Amendment, without the need for any pesky amending of the Constitution to officially repeal it.

I see some flaws in your theory, starting with the fact that criminals who currently possess a gun aren’t affected by any of these would-be laws in the slightest. Gang members, drug dealers, and those driving the violence on the streets of Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, and even New York will keep on keeping on and doing what they do. In fact, using a gun in the commission of a crime, and illicit gun ownership in general, will likely become even more instrumental to developing your street cred once a culture of responsible gun ownership is destroyed.

Many of those youthful, non-violent offenders will be sent to federal prison for violating federal gun laws dealing with the mere possession of a firearm. It’s already happening in New York, where most of the people arrested and imprisoned for possessing a gun without a license are young black men without serious criminal records. Your proposal wouldn’t stop mass killers, but it has the potential to turn tens of millions of Americans into felons overnight.

Again, look at the compliance rate of the SAFE Act where you live in New York. There’s massive non-compliance, and there’s nothing the governor or anyone can do about it. Right now there are tens of thousands of New Yorkers who haven’t re-registered their handguns as required by the SAFE Act. Governor Cuomo extended the registration deadline a year, but has quit talking about the subject completely. What’s he going to do, order the State Police to start knocking on doors demanding registration papers and arresting gun owners who don’t comply? That’ll go over well. No, much like his 7-round magazine ban and his requirement that every ammunition purchase go through a background check, when a portion of the SAFE Act proves to be unenforceable or unworkable, Governor Cuomo simply pretends it doesn’t exist.

There will be massive and passive non-compliance with any of the laws you want to put on the books. In states beyond New York (and maybe even in a few upstate counties in the Empire State), “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” communities will refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement when it comes to enforcing any of your new gun laws. Most of the enforcement you do see will be in deep-blue cities like New York, and most of those prosecuted at the federal level will be young minority males (the same young minority males that gun control sugar daddy Michael Bloomberg wants to “throw up against a wall” and frisk). I don’t think that’s really what you envisioned when you decided to stop eating and start demanding “change”.

There are better ways to reduce violent crime; from gang violence to the incredibly rare but always shocking active assailant attacks. We actually can make city streets safer, not by trying to take away the rights of 300,000,000 Americans but by focusing on the less than 1% of the population who are causing the violence. Along with focusing on the violent offenders, we actually need education as well. We need to re-establish a culture of responsible gun ownership in places where it’s become culturally taboo to own a gun. We need to reach kids before they turn to gangs, but we need to reach out to gang members as well, helping them leave that life behind or face the most severe consequences in the federal prison system.

And we need to treat the incredibly few individuals who prey on the innocent and try to take as many lives as possible as just one portion of true mental health crisis in this country. Suicide rates are the highest they’ve been since World War II. Teen suicide rates are the highest they’ve been since 2000, in large part because of a spike in suicides among teenage boys. But older Americans are dying from suicide in large numbers as well, and while there’s been a rise in gun-related suicides, non-gun-related suicides have increased even faster. This isn’t a gun control issue, it’s a mental health issue, and when we try to make it about waiting periods or gun licensing, we’re going in the wrong direction.

Many of these individuals who’ve engaged in these active assailant attacks had drawn the attention of law enforcement, or teachers, or classmates, or family members. We’re not looking for needles in haystacks here. What’s lacking is not the ability to identify these individuals, but to treat them before they commit their crimes against humanity. Educators have an important role to play here as well. As an elementary school teacher, I’m sure you’ve run across kids before that were just “off”. Maybe they lacked empathy, or the ability to relax and smile. They blended into the background or were the butt of jokes. They were awkward socially, and just never fit in.

Maybe 1 in 1,000,000 of these “weird” kids will turn into a mass killer. But what if, by helping the other 999,999 learn to adjust to the world around them, we can also help that one kid before he decides to end as many innocent lives as possible. That help could take the form of mentorships, working with school counselors and school resource officers, teaching anger management techniques and empathy skills, and other educational approaches that could benefit the kids who need it the most when it could do the most good. The earlier we can reach these kids the better. Just as it becomes much more difficult to pull a kid away from gangs once they’re an active member, it’s a lot harder to change the young men we need to reach when they’re actually young men and have found their philosophical home in the toxic nihilism or hate that drives them. If we can inoculate them against that toxic stew when they’re younger, they will hopefully be more resistant to it as adults.

What I’m suggesting is hard, but it stands a much better chance of success than simply slapping a bunch of new gun control laws on the books. If you’re really interested in change for the better, and not to just “do something”, let me buy you a cheeseburger and let’s talk about it.