How many ears must Congress have before it can hear parents and children cry? Yes, and how many dead children will it take before Congress knows too many children have died?

The answer, my friend, is when Congress stops letting the win from the gun lobby blow holes through our U.S. Constitution.

In the 33 years between April 1999, when 12 students were murdered in Columbine, Colorado, and May 2022, when 19 students were killed in Uvalde, Texas, Congress did nothing to protect the lives of young, innocent children. What can we do to help Congress place more value on the lives of children than they do on the NRA lobbyists?

To get Congress to act, Dr. Amy Goldberg, a trauma surgeon at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, advocates showing images of the aftermath of mass shootings. She believes voters, and in turn, Congress, wouldn’t be numb to gun violence if they saw what she sees. Without seeing images of the carnage, people will not experience, on a visceral level, what a mass shooting looks like. Without that visceral, emotional connection, Congress and most people will stand by and do nothing.

Obviously, images of the carnage will be shocking. However, once the initial shock wears off, voters will become outraged knowing their elected officials did nothing to prevent the assault.

“Citizens need to see the destruction of what these military-style weapons do,” Goldberg told NPR. “And I don’t say that lightly. I don’t say that with any disrespect. All the trauma surgeons need this to stop.” She added, “I just cannot believe that Americans in this country would see what these weapons do to our children, our teachers, our community and that they would stand by and do nothing.”

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Michael Cohen, an MSNBC opinion columnist, has a different opinion. He argues publishing photos of slaughtered children wouldn’t result in reasonable gun control laws.

Cohen believes nothing will cause Congress to pass reasonable gun control measures. While he acknowledges the motivation for showing these images come from people whose only goal is to stop the carnage, Cohen believes showing these images will not spur recalcitrant legislators to act. He argues Congress already understands the devastation caused by the American gun culture but places more value on the gun lobbyists than they do on the lives of children.

Therefore conservative “politicians try to make gun violence about everything other than guns and hold dear to the child-like notion that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If politicians are so cynical and morally bereft that they are willing to accept the needless deaths of schoolchildren because it’s in their political interest, do we really expect them to sober up when shown a picture of a murdered child?”

I think they would. When Emmett Till, a Black teenager, was tortured and shot by two white men in Mississippi in 1955, his mother Mamie had an open casket service for her son. The images were shown on TV and printed in newspapers across the nation. The outrage the nation was feeling from seeing the open casket images of young Emmett Till led directly to Rosa Parks, a Black woman, refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. That brave act in turn led directly to the Civil Rights movement and the 1963 March on Washington. Images are a very powerful and motivating factor that spur people into action.

Want to end gun violence? Show people exactly what happens when high-powered semi-automatic rifles are used for what they were designed to do: eviscerate human bodies.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected] and ffrfmaine.org.


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