On Saturday June 4, Union County Commissioner Rebecca Williams took part in the latest march against gun violence in Plainfield. The Plainfield demonstration was part of a renewed national push, spurred on by the tragic shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, towards solutions to the crisis.
Commissioner Williams delivered a powerful, emotional plea for stricter gun control and standing up to the gun lobby. I encourage you to listen or read the transcript below.
Good morning everyone. I’m Rebecca Williams, chair of the Union County Board of Commissioners. I’m bringing you greetings on behalf of the rest of the board. As elected officials, we must do everything within our power to protect our residents, our children, and our families from gun violence. There is no greater public safety issue today than the threat of guns.
So last week at our commissioner’s meeting, Commissioner Granados called on us to adopt a resolution calling for the US Senate to vote on HR-8, the bipartisan background checks act that the house approved over a year ago. This bill would expand background checks required for gun purchases. Currently, federal law does not require that unlicensed gun sellers operating online or at gun shows conduct background checks prior to selling arms. This is outrageous. Passing this act would close those loopholes, requiring a background check for all gun sales. The councilwoman is right when she says that you do need to get involved politically because some members of congress are ignoring the voice of our American people. We need to work together.
As a commissioner, and as chair, I will continue to support policies and advocate for initiatives in relation to the safety of firearms, which can prevent actions like what we’ve seen in Buffalo, Uvalde, and since that time. As you know, there are different types of gun violence. Someone if beefing with someone else, instead of resolving their differences they use violence. They fight. Sometimes with their fists and sometimes fatally with guns. We do live – and I’m serious about this – we live in a culture of violence. We gorge on it and revel in it. In blockbuster vigilante movies, we see guns used to resolve conflict and we cheer the vigilante. I like a good action film now and again, and I’m not saying that watching violent films or playing certain kinds of video games leads to committing acts of violence. I don’t believe that is true, as we would all be incredibly violent. But I do believe there is a desensitization to the effects of violence in mindlessly playing and watching violent games and movies.
I also know there will not be an end to all crime if there are no guns. That’s foolish. It’s foolish to think that. I’m not saying that. However, guns are lethal weapons. Guns kill. Easy access to guns gives those who want to commit crime a deadlier edge. In our state as I mentioned earlier, strong gun laws make sense. For those who talk about their constitutional right to bear arms, let’s keep in mind that those laws were created so that the colonists could protect themselves against the British, and so that they could protect themselves against the Black people they enslaved. If, in the 21st century, those people still want guns – let’s give them some muskets, and some blunderbuss.
I’m convinced that our gun laws here in New Jersey have prevented murders and mass murders. Restrictive gun laws work. Even something as mild as raising the age limit to 21 would have prevented what happened in Buffalo – would have prevented what happened in Uvalde. And that’s the kind of violence that gets us going, the mass murdering kind that you see, at this point, more than ever single day somewhere in America. Can in happen here? It’s far less likely but I would never say never.
We look at our schools as safe spaces for our children. We make sure that they are nourished, that they are cared for. And I’m glad to see the Superintendent and all the School Board members here today. I used to live across the street from Evergreen School and this past week I imagined someone walking into the school and doing the unimaginable. Would they have purchased that assault rifle here in Jersey? Probably not. They probably would have bought the weapon out of state and brought it in our state.
We have federal lawmakers, as I mentioned earlier, who resist any attempt to restrict guns. We have mealy mouthed individuals, mostly from one political party, I must say, who are afraid of the gun lobby. They are afraid of losing the blood money they receive from the NRA to fund their political campaigns. They would rather see their constituents butchered at the shopping mall in Buffalo that lose a dime of that blood money. The would rather see 9 year old children’s bodies literally torn apart, shredded, than part with a penny of that campaign cash. Cash to keep the blood flowing in our streets.
There are those who say perhaps we should show, graphically, the butchering done to these children in America. Show the way that those assault rifles literally tore their limbs from their little bodies. Shredded their limbs, their torsos – ripped their faces apart. That we should show the evidence of our betrayal of these children. How we did nothing to stop it. Right now I’m of two minds about it. And as you all probably know, 50-plus years ago, Emmitt Till’s mother made the decision to show the horror of what was done to her 14 year-old son who was lynched in the south. It helped galvanize the nation, even more, to say “enough is enough”. I don’t know if that would work today because, again, like I said, we live in a society where violence in the new pornography. Where we can see these images turned into memes and mocked and made fun of. Would images of butchered children work to change the hearts and minds of those who legislate? Who knows.
But this is a national issue and we deserve representation that demonstrates that it values our lives. I know there are rallies going on all over the country today and yesterday in New York – and I really would like to thank Councilwoman Briggs-Jones, the City Council, the mayor, the school district, and Moms Demand Action for gathering our community for his conversation and this march. We owe our children safety. We owe our community safety. We owe our children safe spaces. We must support the most stringent laws or the blood will be on our hands.
There was an op-ed piece in the New York Times by the great artist and illustrator Lynda Barry 30 years ago called “The Sanctuary of School”. Some of you may know this essay because it’s widely disseminated. In it, Barry – who was talking about getting more funding for schools – writes about how her school saved her life. It gave her a safe space for creativity and for support against a family that was somewhat neglectful. She ends the essay with a query and with a comment. She says her teacher asked us to stand, face the flag, place our right hand over our hearts, and say the pledge of allegiance. Children across the country do it faithfully. I wonder when the country will face its children and say a pledge right back. Thank you.