On the morning of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., a frantic message from a former co-worker appeared on my Facebook page. Her son is a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She asked us to pray for his safety. He was -- thank God -- physically unharmed. However, his best friend (her godson) was one of the 20 children killed.
I can't even begin to imagine what they are going through. I continue to pray for her family, her friend who lost a child, and the Newtown community in the wake of this monstrous act.
I also pray for all of those families who have lost children, parents, brothers, sisters, and other loved ones to a never-ending cycle of urban gun violence that hardly ever makes national news.
Ashake Banks will be spending her first Christmas without her daughter Heaven Sutton.
In June, the 7-year-old was shot and killed near her Chicago home -- a victim of gang crossfire.
Heaven was the same age as some of the children who died in Newtown. Yet she was not from an upper-middle class suburb. She was not of the same social class as the people who tend to cover national news, nor of most of our elected officials.
She was an African-American child from a low-income urban neighborhood terrorized by criminals with guns on a daily basis. Much like neighborhoods in parts of East and West Oakland where apparently people are willing to accept -- including I'm afraid, many of those who live in those neighborhoods -- dozens upon dozens of people dying every year in gun violence. The street shrines go up and then it's back to business as usual.
It has taken the murders of 20 babies and six adults in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Connecticut to achieve what thousands of gun fatalities in urban communities all over this country could not. Newtown has forced a national discussion about the insane epidemic of gun violence in America.
"There have been an endless series of deadly shootings all across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children in small towns and in cities all across America," President Barack Obama said Sunday during his remarks at the memorial for Newtown victims. "Much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
I was glad to see the president make reference to the urban homicide epidemic. Chicago, ground zero in the urban killing epidemic is after all his hometown. There were 35 people shot -- seven of them fatally -- in Chicago during one summer weekend.
The city has had 488 homicides, most of them gun-related. The same is true in Oakland where so far 123 have died.
This isn't just about mass shootings or school safety. It's about the culture of gun violence across this country and how we, as a nation, finally begin to put an end to the ceaseless bloodshed.
On Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce an assault weapons ban bill the first day of the new Congress. Former President Bill Clinton had signed an assault weapons ban law in 1994, but the measure was allowed to expire. Feinstein says her bill "will ban the sale, transfer, importation and possession" of assault weapons.
There has been more talk of regulating ammunition, extending waiting periods and requiring those who sell firearms at gun shows to conduct background checks.
Yet that won't have much effect on the 300 million legally registered guns in this country.
There are no snap, one-size-fits-all solutions.
In Newtown, the shooter apparently had access to semi-automatic weapons that had been legally purchased by his mother. In fact, many mass shootings have been carried out by people who used legal guns.
However, in urban communities, most street shootings are committed by people with illegal guns. The weapons are either stolen from legal gun owners or bought from unlicensed gun dealers and traffickers.
Any plan to address gun violence must deal with legal and illegally obtained weapons.
Whether a privileged troubled white kid deliberately kills a 7-year-old at a school with his mother's gun or an African-American gang member accidentally shoots a child on a public street in Chicago, we have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again.