Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder and president Jesse Jackson is organizing a protest rally this Saturday at a suburban gun shop that he said sold the majority of guns connected with recent shooting deaths in Chicago.

A longtime advocate of tougher gun laws, Jackson has intensified efforts in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech and local shootings that have killed 27 Chicago youths.

Last Friday Jackson attended the funeral of 16-year-old Blair Holt, an innocent bystander killed May 10 on a CTA bus, while using his body to shield a friend from a bullet intended for a gang member.

Thousands of mourners filed into the House of Hope, a multi-purpose arena affiliated with Salem Baptist Church in Chicago’s South Side to pay tribute to the popular honor student now being called a hero.

“We’re here to celebrate the life of a young man who was a hero, and we give honor and praise to God,” said James Meeks, an Illinois state senator and pastor of the 24,000-member Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, the city’s largest Baptist congregation.

During the service, Blair’s father, Ronald Holt, a Chicago police officer, presented the boy’s mother, Annette Nance-Holt, a city firefighter, with the gift their only child had picked out to give her for Mother’s Day. It was a pendant shaped like a fire department badge, celebrating her recent promotion to captain.

The senseless shooting–two teenagers have been charged with murder in Blair’s death–has become a catalyst uniting Chicago’s African-Americans around community responsibility, against gangs and in support of tougher gun laws.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., whose son was gunned down in 1999, promised to hold hearings and introduce a bill in Congress named “Blair’s Bill” to address gun control. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has called for “common sense legislation” to restrict the currently unlimited number of guns an individual can buy in a month. The mayor and police support a ban on assault weapons encourage greater public participation in the police department’s gun turn-in program, which has retrieved about 4,000 weapons this year.

In an op-ed piece published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Jackson said large cities don’t manufacture guns, and most don’t allow gun dealers to operate within city limits. “But our urban borders are even more porous than our national borders,” Jackson said, with gun dealers setting up shop just outside many U.S. cities.

“Metropolitan areas, where most people live, have no use for gun peddlers, for people packing concealed weapons, for kids fighting gang wars with assault weapons,” Jackson wrote. “If given their choice, most citizens in cities and suburbs would simply ban handguns, ban assault weapons and ban gun shops and gun dealers. Hunters could buy their guns in the rural areas where they hunt.”

The ViolencePolicyCenterreported in January the homicide rate for blacks in the United States is six times higher than for whites. For homicides in which a weapon could be identified, 79 percent of victims were shot and killed with guns. Of those, 80 percent were killed with handguns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, homicide is the leading cause of death for black males ages 15-34.

Nobody believes gun laws alone will solve the problem.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a syndicated columnist and political analyst, wrote a column attempting to explain “how young black men learn life is cheap.”

“The violence stems from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry,” Hutchinson said. “In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message is that black lives were expendable. Many studies confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black.”

That “perceived devaluation of black lives” he said, breeds disrespect for the law. It causes many blacks to internalize anger and too often act out in aggression toward others who look like themselves.

Accessibility of drugs, guns and the influence of misogynist and violence-laced rap music reinforce feelings that life is cheap and there will be minimal consequences if the life taken is black, Hutchinson continued.

A final ingredient in the mix of black-on-black violence, he said, is “the gang plague” and ease with which gang-bangers can get illegal guns. Gang members use their arsenals to defend turf and settle scores. Often, he said, people like Blair Holt pay the price when they are caught in the crossfire or killed in a case of mistaken identity.

Jesse Jackson called on Holt’s high school classmates to take action. “You know who’s got the drugs,” he said. “You know who’s got the guns. If you cover up the gun-toters and drug pushers, you are an accomplice to the murder. Will you resist? Or will you protest?”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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