Richard Martinez was living a normal life as 60 year-old defense attorney in Los Osos, California. Then, on May 23, 2014 a man with a gun shot and killed his son Christopher and five other University of California, Santa Barbara students in the beach town of Isla Vista.
Richard Martinez mourned, but he didn’t mope. He, instead, went on the offense against what he called “a rudderless bunch of idiots in government.” He said that his son died because of Congress’s failure to pass gun control legislation, despite an epidemic of mass shootings.
“Have we learned nothing?” Martinez asked on HLN. “My kid died because nobody responded to what occurred at Sandy Hook. These things are going to continue until somebody does something, so where in the hell is the leadership?”
And continue it does: since his son was murdered, a college student was shot to death in Seattle, Washington; a sheriff’s deputy was shot outside a courthouse in Georgia; a young man and woman went on a killing rampage that took the lives of two police officers and a civilian in Las Vegas, Nevada; a teenager with a rifle killed a fellow student in a Portland, Oregon school.
Martinez spoke with anger and eloquence at a news conference, and he allocated responsibility for his son’s death to “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. When will enough people say ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this.’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: ‘Not one more.’”
The New York Times zeroed in on the leadership issue in a May 28 editorial titled As Congress Sleeps, More People Die:
“In being bullied by the gun industry into rejecting one of the most effective ways of limiting the proliferation of guns–––the universal background checks–––members of Congress have become complicit in shootings by anyone who should not be allowed to own a gun because of a criminal or mental health record. It is not just the mass shootings like the one in California that the nation needs to focus on, but also the more than 11,000 individual deaths from gun violence every year.”
Mr. Martinez asked, “Where the hell is the leadership?”
I submit it will not come from what he correctly termed “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” Leadership for social change will be effective only if it rises up from among the people.
As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858 when debating slavery, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”
Leadership in this realm is coming from people such as Richard Martinez, Gabby Gifford and Mark Kelly. Are we bold enough to follow?